Solon student researches snails with the UI


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As a graduation gift, Kaitlin Hatcher’s parents offered her a senior trip. The 18-year-old Solon High School student considered a Manhattan Island vacation or Disney World adventure.

However, in the end, Hatcher chose a trip to New Zealand researching snails with two University of Iowa graduate students.

“My parents said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and they were totally onboard,” she said. “This experience was priceless.”

Though only a high-school senior, Hatcher spent the last three weeks researching in New Zealand. There, she and UI graduate students Katelyn Larkin and Laura Rice Bankers sequenced genomes of sexual and asexual freshwater snails from more than a dozen lakes in New Zealand.

At this time, evolutionary biologists are unsure why different animals reproduce sexually or asexually. Such research could help find the answer.

Hatcher was introduced to the UI Biology Department as a high-school sophomore through an outreach program at Solon High. Biology Associate Professor Maurine Neiman and her lab team visited Solon to give students a hands-on experience with science.

“We want to show students real scientists aren’t nerds in lab coats,” Neiman said.

At the time, Hatcher wanted to become a pediatrician. Her high-school biology class and Neiman’s demonstration, however, swayed her.

“This really gave me a dilemma, and that’s what led me to do my internship so I could figure out what the possibilities were for me,” she said.

Hatcher reached out to Kirkwood’s Workplace Learning Connection, which links students to internship and job opportunities. Though Neiman’s lab was not on its online list of internship opportunities for students, Rochelle Sowers, an internship program specialist, helped her land an internship anyway.

“Kaitlin stands out because she’s mature and self-motivated,” Sowers said. “When I gave her a challenge, I knew she would tackle it.”

After filling out paperwork and undergoing the interview process, Hatcher was able to do the internship with Neiman as her mentor. In Neiman’s lab, Hatcher did lab setup and data collection on the snails.

“The other lab members took strides to include me in everything just as if I had been in the lab as long as they had,” Hatcher said.

Hatcher, during the summer before her junior year of high school, also had the opportunity to become a coauthor on a paper for a scientific journal that is currently under revision.

At the end of her internship, Hatcher was invited to rejoin the lab in the summer of 2014 as a lab manager, a job typically given to advanced undergraduate students.

Hatcher adjusted her high-school class schedule for her senior year so she could work afternoons in the lab.

Hatcher plans to begin college this fall studying biology with an interest in pre-medicine. Hatcher said she feels her experiences in the biology lab helped her develop a clear vision of her future career path before beginning college.

Hatcher considered Grinnell College and Wartburg College but plans to study at the UI.

“I already have such an amazing opportunity and connection at Iowa,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to develop that as far as I have at other schools.”

Hatcher also plans to continue working in Neiman’s lab throughout college.

“Kaitlin’s going to play a big role in the lab for the next four years,” Neiman said.

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