By Ann Y. Robinson
Young researcher Maia Lawson has a lot of gratitude for the support she has received at Iowa State University.
A Cyclone since she was a little girl, the double major in microbiology and genetics is being recognized with the fall 2021 Academic Achievement Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council.
Lawson’s love of science was sparked in Mr. Nilius’s high school biology class, where she first studied living cells. Her confidence in her own future as a scientist has been nurtured in Iowa State classes and labs.
Lawson’s list of influencers on campus include Nancy Boury, whose passionate instruction helped Lawson decide to pursue microbiology.
Nicholas Peters has also played an important role in Lawson’s success. An assistant professor of plant pathology and microbiology, Peters has been her advisor since sophomore year when she excelled in his Principles of Plant Pathology course. “Dr. Peters has been so supportive and helpful. He was always right there to answer questions and help me deal with every situation.”
He urged her to apply for a prestigious Lab Science Internship in Molecular Genetics. She won the internship. Though it didn’t work out due to COVID, it solidified her confidence that she was on the right track.
“Since day one, Maia has been an advisor’s dream,” Peters said in his nomination for her senior award. “She epitomizes everything the Academic Achievement Award embodies, including hard work, academic excellence, perseverance, leadership and a strong sense of community and inclusion. She represents the fundamental core principles of Iowa State’s motto ‘Science with Practice.’”
Lawson credits much of her hands-on scientific training to Jean Batzer and Yuba Kandel, laboratory managers for the Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.
“One of my first days working in Dr. Kandel’s lab, he handed me information on a project he wanted me to lead,” Lawson said. “I had a lot to learn, but the experiment was successful, and it gave me confidence that research is something I’m good at and want to do with my career.”
That work helped Lawson earn a Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture undergraduate research scholarship studying soybean sudden death syndrome. It has also led to an opportunity to co-author research publications with Kandel, the first of which has been submitted to the journal “Plant Disease.”
“I learned from each of the researchers I have worked under,” Lawson said. “They have taught me vital lab practices I expect to use throughout my career, but also so much more. Like how to problem solve, how to organize and lead a project, how to present scientific findings and how to secure funding for projects that interest me.”
As she graduates, Lawson plans to continue working for several months for one of her mentors, Gregory Phillips, professor of veterinary microbiology and preventive medicine. She will help experiment with genetically engineering Salmonella as a way to deliver therapeutic treatments for turkeys.
“I love research,” Lawson said. “You never know what you’re going to find and how it might make a difference.”