Casey Gregory

Schuylkill Speaks: A Conversation with Casey Gregory

Casey Gregory is a senior earning her degree in Biology. Now that she's earned her bachelor's degree, she will trade in one lab for another as she begins graduate school at Virginia Tech, where she will study honey bee health.
By: Samantha L. Bower

Casey Gregory is an academic and athletic all-star. On Saturday, May 4, she will graduate from Penn State Schuylkill with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. But this scholar’s academic momentum will continue beyond her time at Schuylkill – in August, she begins her master’s program in the Department of Biological Sciences at Virginia Tech where she will be working in Dr. Lisa Belden’s research lab.

Last summer, Casey got her feet wet at Virginia Tech by participating as a member of their Securing Our Food: Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program. The purpose of the program is to encourage participants to think critically and design research experiments to address the world’s food and fiber needs. Casey spent five weeks conducting bench work in a lab on the Virginia Tech campus and another five weeks doing applied field work at one of Virginia Tech’s four Agricultural Research and Extension Centers.

In 2017, Casey participated in Penn State’s Connecting Humans and Nature through Conservation Experiences (CHANCE) program. Casey’s conservation experience included a trip to Costa Rica, where she conducted field research and learned about the nation’s conservation efforts at the La Selva Biological Research Station.

A highly-engaged student, Casey is a member of Theta Chi Theta, Penn State Schuylkill’s chapter of Beta Beta Beta, the national biological honor society, as well as a member of THON. She has also been named a USCAA All-Academic Athlete and was awarded with the Honors Award in Chemistry by Dr. Lee Silverberg in 2017.

This Penn Stater has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her. She will take all of those experiences with her as she embarks on the next chapter of her life. Read what she had to say about the next steps in her journey:

Where are you from?

I am from Pottsville, PA.

What was your early school career like? Would you consider yourself as someone who always had a passion for learning?

I always had a love for learning. I was homeschooled during middle school and high school which gave me the flexibility to focus on subjects that interested me. When I was in high school I really enjoyed science and literature. 

Did you always want to follow a career in biology, or did you entertain other career paths?

During my early school career, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science, but wasn’t exactly sure what direction I should go in. When I graduated high school, I wanted to become a pharmacist. I attended Wilkes University my freshman year of college as a pre-pharmacy major. After my first year, I realized pharmacy wasn’t for me so I came to Penn State Schuylkill and majored in biology. 

What made you want to earn a degree in biology?

During my freshman year of college, I had the opportunity to do research with a faculty member at Wilkes that studies the impacts of natural gas pipelines on the surrounding plant communities. I really enjoyed being a part of the scientific process. The possibility of discovering something new was very exciting. This experience made me want to pursue a career in biological research.

Why did you choose Penn State Schuylkill to earn your degree in biology?

I was originally going to spend a year at Schuylkill and then transfer up to the main campus; however, I liked the professors and the other students so much I decided to stay at Schuylkill.

What people, places, and things at Schuylkill have made earning your biology degree an awesome experience?

My professors have been fantastic. I had the majority of my major-specific courses with Dr. Brenna Traver and Dr. Lucas Redmond. Both of them have been such amazing teachers. They were always willing to help me with problems in or out of class. I couldn’t have asked for better mentors. Schuylkill also has an awesome group of bio majors. They are all so caring and involved. I got to bond with biology students and faculty at the events run by Penn State Schuylkill’s chapter of the Beta Beta Beta.

Have you had a favorite class, or is there a specific focus within biology you really enjoy?

My favorite class was BIOL 421 with Dr. Redmond. In this class we learn how to identify animal species native to Pennsylvania. I like being able to see animals in nature and know what they are.

Did you conduct any research with faculty mentors?

I have done field work during the summer with Dr. Redmond. Dr. Redmond studies various aspects of the breeding behaviors of grey catbirds. While working with Dr. Redmond I took blood samples from nestlings and adult birds, set up mist nets, and banded adult catbirds.

I have also done work with Dr. Lee Silverberg. While working for Dr. Silverberg, I synthesized organic compounds with potential biological applications. The compounds I synthesized will be tested for activity against a range of infectious bacterial and fungi.

What are your post-grad plans?

I am planning to relax and enjoy my summer before starting grad school at Virginia Tech in August.

What made you want to apply to Virginia Tech?

Dr. Traver attended Virginia Tech for graduate school and has always spoken highly of the school. She encouraged me to apply for an internship at Virginia Tech last summer. I got the internship and spent several weeks working on biological research projects in Virginia Tech’s laboratories. I learned a lot and met some really great people my internship, which prompted me to apply to Virginia Tech for graduate school.

Did anyone help you with your application?

Dr. Traver put so much effort into helping me apply to graduate school. She must have revised my personal statement a dozen times. I can’t thank her enough for her help.

Were you aware that you’d be working hands-on with Lisa Belden in her lab, and do you know what you’ll be studying when you’re there?

Yes, I did. Before I applied, I had the opportunity to visit Dr. Belden’s lab and learn more about her research. I also got to meet with her current graduate and postdoc students. They seem like a great group and I’m excited to start working with them! I will be developing my own project that focuses on the role of the honey bee gut microbiome in overall honey bee health and pathogen defense.

How did your family react when you told them you were going to graduate school?

They were very excited to hear that I would be able to support myself financially!

What do you hope to do with your graduate degree once you’ve earned it? And do plan to earn your doctorate, as well?

I would like to go on the earn my Ph.D. If I can continue doing biological research the rest of my life, I will be very happy. I may also want to teach at an institution one day.

Now that you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, do you have any advice for your fellow students?

Make sure you love what you’re doing. Pick a career path that you can get excited about. If you’re excited about your field and willing to put in effort, you will definitely succeed.