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Mandy Whatley

Mandy Whatley
Class of 2014
Biology Major and
Spanish and Environmental Science Minors

While most students view the summer as a time to take a break from their studies, Mandy Whatley immerses herself in environmental microbiology research.

Taking advantage of the many research opportunities available at Bridgewater College, Mandy spent the summer of 2012 working with Dr. Timothy Kreps, associate professor of biology, surveying Escherichia coli (also called E. coli), which is an intestinal bacteria.

With the goal of finding the most common resistant antibiotic, Mandy took water samples from the local watersheds of the North River, Blacks Run and Cooks Creek. She tested the E. coli to different antibiotics and found that the two streams with the most resistances were Blacks Run, which contains urban pollution since it runs through Harrisonburg, Va., and Cooks Creek, which has run-off from agricultural farms. Her study revealed the most common resistant antibiotic as Tetracycline.

This research project, funded by a grant from the Virginia Foundation of Independent Colleges (VFIC), along with letters of recommendation from her professors, were instrumental in helping Mandy obtain a highly competitive National Science Foundation-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) during the summer of 2013.

Working with Dr. Jay Pinckney at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Mandy studied the toxicity of the bacterium, Vibrio parahaemolyticus on the cyanobacterium Synechococcus bacillaris. Her research involved growing cultures of these organisms and then infecting the S. bacillaris with the V. parahaemolyticus and measuring the effect in a plate reader.

Mandy’s motivation behind the research was in helping microbial ecologists try to determine how V. parahaemolyticus persists in the environment since its population size increases during algal blooms and it is the number one cause of seafood poisoning in humans worldwide.

In addition to the hands-on research, Mandy developed a research proposal, synthesized and prepared her research into a formal written report and gave an oral presentation of her findings. She also participated in weekly seminars on proposal and paper writing, science communication and outreach, applying to graduate school and future careers in marine science.

For Mandy, who is looking to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental microbiology, the VFIC and REU research programs are providing skills that she will need to work in a microbiology lab. “It is giving me insight into what I would like to do in the future for graduate school,” she said. “It is providing me with an excellent resume booster that will hopefully help me get accepted to graduate school.”