Engaging Minds, Transforming Lives

Inquiry Initiative

Jenna Gaska

  • © 2012 Lance Holt

Jenna, a native of San Antonio, Texas, is set to receive a dual degree in Biology and Classics in May.

Having already gotten her feet wet in the world of scientific inquiry in high school, Jenna sought to continue her “pursuit of science” when she came to Southwestern. She joined Dr. Maria Cuevas’ lab her sophomore after having had Dr. Cuevas for Methods in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Ever since, Jenna has participated in the collaborative research project into breast cancer that is conducted by the laboratories of Dr. Cuevas, Dr. Maria Todd ,and Dr. Rebecca Sheller. Now a senior, Jenna is finishing her honors thesis researching the effects of certain hormones on cellular structures that play a significant role in breast cancer cells. More precisely, Jenna is “using cell culture, gel electrophoresis, and immunoblot analysis to assess the potential role of estradiol and progesterone in altering the expression and localization of the tight junction proteins claudin-3 and -4 in the breast epithelial MCF-7 and the endometrial HEC-1A cancer cell lines.” If that is not a mouthful enough she has also “ exposed these two cell lines to the chemotherapeutic agent 4-hydroxy-tamoxifen and monitored claudin-3 and -4 expression following estradiol exposure at various time-points.” Wow. In addition to learning about laboratory techniques and being exposed to the nuts and bolts of scientific inquiry, Jenna also cites her time in the laboratory as a source for honed critical thinking skills.

“I feel most like a scientist whenever I am working to understand a challenging concept or troubleshooting a problem that arises in the lab,” Jenna says. She feels at home with and inspired by established scientists in the field. Last summer, Jenna and Dr. Cuevas attended the Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting, which included a special day-long forum on cancer and hormones. “Listening to renowned scientists discuss their research left me overflowing with new ideas, and I felt even more certain about my decision to pursue science as a career.”

Following graduation, Jenna plans to attend graduate school to receive a Ph.D. in molecular biology and hopes one day to be a professor. “Science is always providing us with opportunities to stretch ourselves and re-define our knowledge,” she said. A lifetime of exciting scientific inquiry awaits!