Career Q&A: Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology, about her work as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

image1Name: Nilusha Jayasinghe
Job Title: Intramural Research Fellow, National Institutes of Health
Major/Minor: Undergrad: Biology and Spanish, Grad: Applied Molecular Biology (AMB)
Grad Year: Undergrad: 2013, Grad: 2015

Tell me a little about the research project you’re involved in at NIH. I study the genetics of blood and lymph vessel development and differentiation during vertebrate development using the model organism zebrafish. We look at the genes that are critical in different signaling pathways that dictate proper vessel development, which can also play a role in cancer metastasis since tumors need these vessels to survive. Zebrafish develop rapidly and produce transparent embryos which are fertilized outside of the mother, which enable us to use them to study our topic very easily. Most importantly, development in zebrafish is very similar to human development, so we can translate our findings into the genetics behind circulatory defects in humans which is really interesting and useful!

How did your UMBC experience bring you to your current position in research? I was a pre-med student back then at UMBC (currently I’ll call myself pre-health, since I am also considering [physician assistant] school as well), and one of the things that make a competitive applicant is research experience. I also have skills and interests in the biological sciences which were especially refined during my master’s program, so I thought that I’ll take a few years post-graduation to do more research. I ended up at the NIH because of their amazing research facilities and track record, as well as their extensive pre-health community and resources.

Is there a particular class or professor at UMBC that inspired you? Yes! I’ll have to say that Dr. Richard Wolf (now retired, taught prokaryotic molecular biology and directed the AMB program) and Ms. Julia Wolf (taught the lab part of the AMB program) both inspired and challenged me a lot during my master’s program. They were excellent instructors and mentors, teaching with both care and the necessary challenge[s] to push their students to their [maximum] potential.

Having had the experience, what piece of advice would you give a new UMBC student? There is so much that I learned at UMBC and so many things I can say, but I think one of the most valuable things is to realize the amount of resources and great minds there are [here]. With that said, in order to make the best of your experience I think that getting involved and networking is so important! Tell people about what interests you and what you hope to do short-term or long-term, and I guarantee that they will want to help you! You never know what others may know about or can do for you that might open the doors for some of the best experiences of your life. This happened to me many times at UMBC [,and these experiences] helped me land graduate assistantships, learn about the AMB program, and finally get a spot in the NIH, for some examples. So, put yourself out there and let yourself be known!

Meet the Newest Alums: Carpenter, Scheerer, Krach, and Berghaus

UMBC is always full of hard-working people who aspire to do great things, and the class of 2014 is no exception. Today, we wanted to share with you what some of our recent graduates are planning to do with their Retriever education.

Carpenter2014-7121_mod Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar Meghan Carpenter, political science, used her interest in politics to to focus on education policy. She was the director of the Office of Community and Government Relations in the Student Government Association and a Governor’s Summer Intern at the Maryland State Department of Education. As a student, Carpenter proposed a budget to the Maryland General Assembly that would aim to reduce textbook prices. She now works as the Director of Policy and Research for the
Eric Ebersole campaign for State Delegate.

Scheerer2014-7071_modEditor of the Technology Section in The Retriever Weekly for several years, Emily Scheerer, computer science, was also a Center for Women in Technology Scholar, and interned with the Department of Defense and Booz Allen Hamilton. During her spare time, she worked as a UMBC Welcome Week Leader (Woolie) and was president of the UMBC Ballroom Dance Team. Now, Scheerer plans to continue her education at UMBC and earn an M.S. in computer science.

Krach2014-6853_modKelsey Krach, cultural anthropology and Spanish, was both a Sondheim Scholar and a valedictorian finalist for the Class of 2014. She interned with the Citizens Planning and Housing Association and Amnesty International USA. Krach also lead an Alternative Spring Break so other students could learn about refugees in Baltimore, won the Outstanding Student in Anthropology Award, and became a member of many honor societies. She now plans to do non-profit community development work.

ABerghaus2014-6824_mod native of Germany, Kim Berghaus, physics, dedicated her time at UMBC to her school work and the Women’s Tennis team. She earned the Outstanding Graduating Senior Physics Award, the Joseph F. Mulligan Memorial Lectureship, and was name the Matt Skalsky Outstanding UMBC Scholar. Berghaus was also excellent on the court. She was named the Most Valuable Player for the 2014 season, was a member of the America East Tennis All-Academic Squad, and was the first Retriever to be nationally ranked in women’s tennis. Her freshman year, she was named America East Conference Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player. Berghaus now works in Dr. Giuliano Scarcelli’s Lab at the Harvard Medical School.

Read more about the Class of 2014!

Pride Proven

UMBC’s Prove It! Campaign has added greatly to the quality of campus life during its six years of existence, including the creation of a green space outside the Fine Arts Building and a system for tracking campus shuttle buses via GPS technology.

Last year’s winners have finally made their mark at UMBC – three new and vibrantly decorated Chesapeake Bay Retriever statues placed in prominent areas around campus.

s14-atplay-retriever-cThe Retriever Project was the brainchild of UMBC students: Kelsey Krach’ 14, cultural anthropology and Spanish,
Travis Bell ’14, psychology and political science,
and Cami Sotela ’13, psychology.

With funding provided by UMBC’s Student Government Association, Prove It! gives undergraduates with a vision for ways to improve the campus a chance to compete to have their plan realized. Winners of the competition can receive up to $10,000 to implement a winning plan and cash prizes of up to $2,000.

s14-atplay-retriever-aThe idea for the Retriever Project was based on a number of colorful “animals on parade” public art projects around the world – most notably two large projects in nearby Washington, D.C., which featured pandas and then donkeys and elephants.

Krach, Bell, and Sotela spent more than two years planning their Retriever Project entry. The first three statues were placed in front of the Albin O. Kuhn Library, The Commons, and the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Each statue is painted to reflect a core UMBC value: diversity, academic and social exploration and the breadth and depth of UMBC’s academic program.

— Jessie Orsburn ’14

Read more from the UMBC Magazine!