Stellar Student: Brittany Mersman

It didn’t take very long for Brittany Mersman to make a good impression on SIUE biology professor Amy Hubert.

Brittany Mersman is double majoring in Biology and Psychology. The native of Teutopolis plans to earn a PhD in pyschology after graduation. (Photo by Joseph Lacdan)

“She picks up stuff really fast,” Hubert said. “I show her how to do something once and she can do it and show other people how to do it. She asks good questions if I forget to mention some detail she can pick up on a step that I might have skipped, she can see that wouldn’t work if we didn’t do that step.”

After taking Hubert’s genetics course last spring, Mersman quickly proved herself to become one of Hubert’s brightest students. Mersman’s natural ability to learn have helped her post a 4.0 GPA while double majoring in Biology and Psychology. It has also earned the Teutopolis native the College of Arts and Sciences’ Stellar Student award.

Last fall Mersman asked Hubert if she could participate in undergraduate group study as part of Hubert’s research on planarians, or flatworms. The study examines how flatworms regulate and regenerate their stem cells and regrow parts of their bodies. Mersman worked with other undergraduate students to study the role of a particular chromatin regulation complex in flatworm regenerations.

“I was excited when she asked to be in my lab because I knew she was really intelligent and she was a hard worker and focused on her studies,” Hubert said. “When we have lab journal club meetings she seemed to be really prepared and has good insights into the research we are reading about.”

Hubert said that Mersman is one of the students who takes an active leadership role in the group study. The 21 year old has served as chair of the SIUE Catholic Student club and has also applied her leadership ability as a tutor in Chemistry and Math for the past three semesters.

“That kind of made me realize that I want to teach because I feel like I’m kind of good at it,” Mersman said.

Mersman said she first took an interest in biology as a high school student attending a Health Occupations Course at St. Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham. Mersman, a junior who has earned enough credit for senior status, plans to apply for graduate school after graduation and earn a PhD in psychology.

“I like learning about the brain and the different pathways of the brain,” Mersman said.

For Mersman’s biology senior project she is studying the learning behavior of flatworms and if they can be trained to learn simple associations of light with shock.

“She wants to see if we can find some gene that is required for that process, by choosing candidate genes to be knocked down and then see if the worms can learn without the genes products,” Hubert said. “They are knocking down expression of the gene, so if the genes are not functioning anymore, does that affect the ability the worms to learn?”

If Mersman’s ability to learn is indication, she is up to the challenge.

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