Hailey Bullard’s REU with Sanford Health Research prepares her for Honors thesis and graduate school

By Kistler Hunt

Honors College senior Hailey Bullard participated in the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) with Sanford Health Research in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, during the summer of 2023. Bullard is majoring in cellular and molecular biology with a minor in chemistry. During this REU, she worked under the direction of Dr. Paola Vermeer, principal investigator of the Vermeer Lab at Sanford Health Research. For her Honors thesis, which she will be defending in the Spring 2024 semester, she is studying the motility differences of cancer-promoting macrophages (a type of white blood cell) when infected with vesicular stomatitis virus. Her thesis is chaired by Dr. Darren Seals, associate professor in the Department of Biology. Dr. Megen Culpepper, associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Fermentation Sciences and Honors College academic mentor for students majoring in STEM, is serving as second reader.

During this REU from late May to early August, Bullard enjoyed doing research every day. She described her research duties as “Discovering what role microglial cells play in the tumor innervation process of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in mice models. I was responsible for my mice, making sure to meet all my time points, as well as creating a scientific poster presentation of all of the research I completed and the results.”

Bullard stated that the Honors College has been a significant motivator in her professional development as a scientist:

“This experience further pushed me to be the best scientist that I can be, which is something the Honors College has also done. It helped me become a more experienced and well-rounded individual within the scientific community. I'm currently in a lab and working on my Honors thesis here on campus, and this REU furthered my understanding of a lab space and the necessary work it would take to complete a project and thesis.”

Bullard stated that her time in Dr. Vermeer’s lab has prepared her not only for her current thesis work, but also for her future post-graduate plans. She described, “I got to work in a research lab and experience what it would be like to devote my days purely to research. It helped me better understand what grad school would be like for a biology major. Exploring a new state while being surrounded by other students with similar interests was also a really fun time.”

Bullard discovered this program through NSF’s REU website. She considered and applied to multiple programs, describing the application process as similar to college applications. She says, “You fill out information about yourself, the classes you've taken, any relevant experience, and there's often an essay or two. I applied to multiple REUs and spaced out everything over a couple of weeks, giving myself plenty of time to write and rewrite my essays.” For Sanford Research’s REU specifically, Bullard also completed a virtual interview in addition to all other application requirements.

After graduation, Bullard plans to complete a Ph.D. to become a professor and have her own research lab like Dr. Vermeer. Bullard has already been accepted into a Ph.D. program at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine, but she is still waiting to hear back from other programs where she has applied. She summates her Honors and REU experience by saying, “I really enjoy science, and with the great mentors I've had both at App State and my REU, I've found that I want to help the next generation of scientists find their passion.” 

Top photo features Bullard doing work in Dr. Vermeer’s Lab. Photo submitted.


Published: Feb 21, 2024 12:18pm