Senior Kara Dods is good at a lot of things. That’s why Rutgers, with its broad mix of programs, diverse population, and opportunities to conduct research was a great fit for her.
Search and Research
A Triple Threat
Kara’s been a competitive rower and ballroom dancer. She plays French horn and has run a marathon. She is a recipient of Rutgers’ prestigious Presidential Scholarship. In 2010 she received the Freshman of the Year Award for the Class of 2013 from Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) on the Rutgers–New Brunswick campus. And she’s the cofounder of a dance group that specializes in Korean pop music.
As rich as Kara’s college experience has been, it would not have been as productive nor would it have borne as much intellectual fruit, had she not spent the past two years as a researcher under the tutelage of professor Brandon Alderman, working with him on research designed to examine the brain functions of yoga practitioners.
Asking the Big Questions
Because of its national profile as a research institution, Rutgers attracts faculty who are breaking intellectual and creative ground across a wide range of subjects. And undergraduates are welcome to participate in this creation of knowledge. Undergraduate student-faculty collaborative research and scholarship take place in labs, studios, and offices all over the university.
The possibility of working in a lab was very appealing to Kara. “That was one of the deciding factors for me,” she says. Once she realized that at Rutgers she could build her education from a broad range of classes and conduct research, she made her decision. “It was, ‘Yes, I can go to Rutgers and be happy.’ ”
Students on Rutgers–New Brunswick campuses have easy access to research opportunities through the Aresty Research Center. Undergraduates on Rutgers–Newark and Rutgers–Camden campuses also have many opportunities to engage in in-depth research.
As a first-year student, Kara, who has a passion for biology and chemistry, began to hone in on career goals. “I thought about what I was good at, what I enjoyed, and the kind of work environment I wanted to be in,” she recalls. “I wanted to be happy in my job every day.”
An amateur athlete, she has set her sights on becoming an orthopedic surgeon and working with athletes. So when she found a spot in the exercise psychophysiology laboratory of Professor Alderman at the beginning of her junior year, it felt like a perfect fit. The research she’s conducted examines how physical activity influences psychology, an important connection in sports medicine. “Right now, the main project in the lab is looking at meditation and exercise as interventions to combat depression,” she says.
Finding a Mentor
Beyond practical and career considerations, the opportunity to become immersed in scholarly research has had the added benefit of a close, mentoring relationship with a professor. “I’ve been working with Dr. Alderman in his lab for over two years now and he’s been incredible—always ready to support me,” she says.
Alderman says that Kara has made significant contributions to the work the lab does and brings a perspective and level of maturity that is surprising in a young scientist. “Kara is very driven,” he says. “She’s inquisitive, curious about different topics, incredibly self-motivated, and has a really good ability to balance a very hectic schedule.”
“The way it often works in a lab is that the senior graduate students mentor everyone else. As an undergraduate, she’s playing a graduate student role,” he adds.
On a Mission
Not only has Kara been able to quench her hunger for academic achievement during her four years at Rutgers, she has also been able to be of service. Last summer she traveled to Africa with the Rutgers Catholic Students Association. The group helped to construct two schools for children in Tanzania.
She was so moved by her African experience that when she returned to the United States, she proposed that the student group apply for Meal Swipes for Charity on behalf of the poverty- and disease-stricken children she met. Under this Rutgers Dining Services program, students in dining halls can donate a portion of their meal plan to designated charities. Kara’s petition was selected, and the students going to Tanzania on this summer’s mission will bring $19,000 collected in Rutgers’ dining halls to provide baby formula for orphans of the HIV epidemic.
A little closer to home, she fulfills her personal commitment to community service on the weekends with a part-time job tutoring high school students in pre-calculus through Rutgers’ Office for Diversity and Academic Success in the Sciences.
After graduation, Kara plans to spend a year teaching English in Korea before heading to medical school. Even though she will be halfway around the world, she will continue to work on the project that Professor Alderman says has the potential to be a “great contribution.” They will continue to work on the research report via email while Kara is away and she will be a coauthor of the paper that the research generates.
As is often the case with New Jersey’s most accomplished high school students, Kara was not immune to the lure of high-priced, out-of-state private universities and had some hesitation about attending her state school. But when she began envisioning what she wanted her college experience to look like, she realized that all roads led to Rutgers.
As she begins the next chapter of her already accomplished life, she has no doubt that she made the right choice four years ago. “I’ve been very happy here,” she says. “It was a great decision.”