Shavonna Bent realized one of her dreams this past year when she won a highly sought-after spot in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) summer research program.
Bent, a senior Biology major at Johnson State College (JSC), was a high school student vacationing with her family in the Cape Cod area when a research vessel caught her eye. When she returned home and discovered it was run by the WHOI, she set her sights on one day becoming a researcher at the renowned institution.
With her determination and the guidance of JSC professors Drs. Elizabeth Dolci and Les Kanat, Bent successfully applied to the organization’s National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program. During 11 weeks, she attended scientific and professional development seminars, and investigated the production of the Reactive Oxygen Species superoxide in the Northern Star Coral (Astrangia poculata).
Superoxide can be both beneficial and harmful to coral health, playing a role in everything from immune defense to bleaching. Therefore, studying the regulation of superoxide is an important step in understanding the functioning of coral reefs.
Bent is returning to WHOI during her winter break to continue working on this research project where she will use genetic analyses to identify bacteria that live in the mucus layer on the coral to assess whether they also contribute to superoxide production. Ultimately, she hopes this will lead to a scientific publication.
“I learned that I definitely want to have a PhD and that research is fun no matter where you do it,” says Bent of the experience. After graduating, she hopes to continue to pursue her dreams of becoming a biological oceanographer by enrolling in a joint PhD program through WHOI and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.