SMB People

SMB People

  • Reaching for the STARS

    by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04


    When Travis Kent was still a high school student in Boise, Idaho, Washington State University was one of his top choices. But it was on a visit to the WSU School of Molecular Biosciences when he was told about STARS, a fast-track program where students can begin as undergraduates and earn a doctorate in seven years, when he knew this was the place for him.

    “I was excited about getting into the lab early and that shifted my decision to come to WSU,” said Kent, who in 2016 will earn a doctorate in genetics and cell biology.

    With STARS, or Students Targeted toward Advanced Research Studies, students can begin their laboratory training their first year. Each semester and over the summer students receive stipends and the funding allows them to spend time doing their own research, rather than working off-campus.

    “Without the STARS program, I wouldn’t have been able to work in a lab over the summer,” said Kent. “I would have been further behind in my research.”

    Because he had done lab rotations as an undergraduate, by the time he entered graduate school he was able to focus more on research and he was ahead of other graduate students entering the program.

    “I’ve been working in the lab for six years,” said Kent. “I feel better prepared for my exams and I was ahead in my coursework as well.”

    Kent’s research is on how abnormal levels of vitamin A, or retinoic acid, can affect fertility in men. A fat soluble vitamin, retinoic acid levels are affected by an individual’s metabolism.

    “Half of all infertility cases are men,” said Kent. “But in about 50% of those cases, they don’t know the cause.” His research could lead to different advice by doctors who may prescribe vitamin A to treat acne if it could cause infertility later on.

    “I’m passionate about reproductive biology,” said Kent.

    When he finishes graduate school at just 24 years old, he will have many options in front of him.

    “Whether I work in academia, government, or for industry, I haven’t decided,” said Kent. He is currently planning to pursue three to five years of postdoctoral training after he earns his doctorate.

    “After that, I am keeping my options open,” said Kent.

  • Meet New SMB Director, Jonathan Jones

    by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04

    John Nilson and Jonathan Jones

    SMB welcomes new a director, Jonathan Jones. Jonathan comes to us from Northwestern University’s Department of Cell and Molecular Biology in the Feinberg School of Medicine. To get here, he and his wife Susan drove 1869 miles from Chicago to Pullman over Labor Day weekend with a dog and tropical fish in tow.

    “We were very glad when we drove into the parking of the SMB building September 3,” says Jones. “The fish most of all.”

    Originally from Wales, Jonathan earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the University of St. Andrews in England. He went on to complete a post-doc at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. In 1981, he accepted a research position at Northwestern University, where he spent the next 32 years of his career. After his wife Susan retired from the Navy Reserve two years ago, Jonathan thought it would be the ideal time to pursue new career challenges.

    “I really wanted a new challenge to go along with my research program,” says Jones. “I thought I could make a difference in faculty development as a chair.”

    When the director position came open at SMB, it seemed like a perfect fit.

    “There is a very nice portfolio of research in the school and there is an emerging need for recruitment,” says Jones. “The college leadership is also highly dedicated to the success of the school’s research and teaching.”

    Jonathan and Susan also liked the idea of the slower pace of life outside work in the Pullman/Moscow area.

    “We thought it would be nice to move to a smaller town where we could have a house and proper garden,” says Jones. “It was a big, but welcomed change.”

    As director, Jones plans to strengthen existing areas and programs. A search is currently underway for new faculty to join the SMB. With a medical school background, he also hopes to be a part of developing a strong PhD/DVM program within the college.

    “We need to continue to invest in our young scientists,” says Jones.

    We say farewell, but not goodbye to John Nilson, who stepped down as director after 12 years. He will continue his research at SMB. Thanks to John for all his years of service! A research symposium will be held in the fall of 2014 in his honor.

Washington State University