MTSU undergrads share research, receive career advice at State Capitol

Middle Tennessee State University undergraduate researchers Tia Shutes, Kayley Stallings and Aric Moilanen received unexpected career advice from Bryan Terry, a medical doctor from Murfreesboro and now state legislator Wednesday, Feb. 26, at the Tennessee Capitol.

The MTSU students entered his office planning to share about their particular areas of study (and they did), but walked away hearing Terry, who represents the 48th District (Rutherford County) tell them “to enjoy and follow your passion and figure out where you fit.”

Seven MTSU students joined more than 50 others from eight state universities for the annual Posters at the Capitol in the Cordell Hull Building in Nashville, sharing their research with legislators and others.

The event was coordinated by Tennessee STEM Education Center Director Greg Rushton and his staff, and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

In addition to MTSU, other universities participating included Austin Peay, East Tennessee State, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, UT-Knoxville and UT-Martin.

Shutes, 21, of Nashville said Terry’s conversation with them was “life-affirming.” She wants to be a pediatrician or surgeon. Stallings, 21, a senior graduating in May, also is considering the medical profession. They plan to take him up on his offer to answer follow-up questions by email.

“It felt good to receive a response like that from someone on the inside,” Shutes said. “Someone who has already done it. He’s been through the field of medicine and now he’s representing the state of Tennessee.”

“He inspired me,” she added. “It gives me a sense of hope and direction. Being premed, people think it’s going to take forever to obtain your medical degree. When you meet people like him, there is a finish line.”

Jared Frazier, 20, a sophomore double major in chemistry and computer science from Spring Hill, Tennessee, said his study that involves terrorist types of explosives could potentially help the Transportation Safety Administration.

“Our method uses mass spectrometry to screen for explosives rapidly and with more sensitivity,” said Frazier. His work with mentor Mengliang Zhang, a chemistry assistant professor, began as a freshman, and Frazier has moved to another research project.

Moilanen, 22, a senior physics major from Crossville, Tennessee, who graduates in May, had numerous people stop by his poster on display and ask about his research that involves quantum materials.

Other MTSU undergraduate researchers participating in the state Capitol event included:

  • Lily Medley, a senior geosciences major from Tullahoma, Tennessee, whose study was on geology in northern Oregon. Her mentor is professor Warner Cribb.
  • Kayley Stallings of Murfreesboro, a senior double major in biochemistry and fermentation science and double minor in business administration and the Honors College, who explored aspects of Kombucha tea. Her faculty mentor is School of Agriculture assistant professor Keely O’Brien.
  • Lillian Beck, 20, a senior speech language pathology major from Columbia, Tennessee, whose research involved an educational aspect for preschoolers. Her mentor is health and human performance assistant professor Kathryn Blankenship.
  • Dirhat Mohammed, a senior biology major from Antioch, Tennessee, whose study involves graduate teaching assistants in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and non-STEM areas. His mentor is biology associate professor Grant Gardner.

MTSU finance professor Charlie Baum, a member of the state House of Representatives, stopped by to view some of the MTSU posters and talk to students.

MTSU has more than 300 combined undergraduate and graduate programs.

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