Where Our Grads Go

Graduates of the NDSU microbiology program are well prepared for various career paths, including careers in the health sciences, biomedical industries, biotechnology, agricultural biosystems, food industries, pharmaceutical industries, and government agencies. In addition, many of our microbiology majors pursue professional or graduate school.

To give you specific examples of what you might do with a microbiology major from NDSU, we’re dedicating this section of the website to profiles of our former undergraduate students. Check back often, as this page will be periodically updated with new profiles.

Elizabeth Rezac graduated with a B.S. in Microbiology in the spring of 2011. She currently works as a laboratory technician/quality control at Rose Acre Farms in Seymour, IN. Rose Acre’s is a family-owned egg farm with plants in Iowa, Missouri, Georgia, and North Carolina. They offer a variety of products including pasteurized, liquid, dried, and specialty eggs.

Elizabeth’s responsibilities vary depending on where she’s scheduled to work. For instance, in the lab, she performs Listeria assays on finished products to verify that they are Listeria negative; she plates finished product samples onto media including, aerobic count plates, enterobacteriaceae count plates, coliform count plates, yeast and mold plates, and staph plates; and she runs PCR on finished product samples to test for Salmonella sp. She also does a daily walk through of the plant to look for anything that may pose a hazard to employees or may not ensure product quality, she inspects and calibrates equipment, and ensures that Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs) are being followed.

Her time studying microbiology at NDSU prepared her well for her current responsibilities. “The classes prepared me with the knowledge for a job in the field and the hands-on laboratory classes enabled me to experience routine microbiology work… I am utilizing much of what I learned both in the lecture and laboratory classes at my new job,” says Elizabeth. “I feel confident in my education and am grateful for all that this department and NDSU have helped me achieve.”

Lance Presser first became interested in microbiology after a graduate of the NDSU microbiology program visited his high school in Carrington, ND and spoke of a biotech company he recently started in Fargo. “This was exactly what I needed to hear,” says Lance, and the next fall, he enrolled at NDSU and declared a double major in microbiology and biotechnology.

“My first year of class was great, and I got involved in various organizations around campus. One of the most important things for me was getting involved in research with Dr. Lynn Rust working on Pseudomonas aeruginosa as well as Equine Arteritis Virus. When Dr. Rust left to take a position at the NIH, I moved to work with Dr. Penelope Gibbs on pathogenic Escherichia coli. Both of these experiences made a huge difference in my career path and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them…Classes like ‘animal cell culture techniques’ and the ‘immunology and serology lab’ prepared me for future lab work and gave me an advantage over other students as I have yet to meet anyone that has had a class dedicated to cell culture or worked with mice as part of a course curriculum. It also provided me with the chance to attend the American Society of Microbiology general meetings in Washington D.C. and Salt Lake City,” he explains.

After graduating from NDSU, Lance enrolled in a master’s program in Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at the University of Pittsburgh. There, he conducted research on Kaposi’s Sarcoma associated Herpes Virus in the lab of Dr. Frank Jenkins. “I felt great at the University of Pittsburgh. I never felt overwhelmed by the research or classes, because NDSU had done an excellent job preparing me for advanced classes in immunology, virology, microbiology, etc. I was also well prepared for working in a lab environment after spending four years doing it in the Microbiology Department at NDSU.”

He came back to NDSU after earning his M.S. and spent a summer doing research in Dr. Gibbs’ lab. From there, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Microbiology and Immunology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science where he is currently researching Hepatitis C virus and the mechanisms by which it causes liver fibrosis.

“The education I received in the Microbiology Department at NDSU has propelled me to my position today, and through it all I have been able to call professors in the department friends. The curriculum, lab experience and education I received at NDSU were more valuable than I recognized at the time. The longer I remain in research, and the more people I meet, the more I realize that I was lucky to get an incredible education at NDSU, and I am thankful for the opportunities I received in the Microbiology Department.”

Caitlyn Scharn (although many in the department will remember her as Caitlyn Aho) graduated from NDSU in December 2009. She earned a BS in Microbiology with a minor in Chemistry. She is currently working toward a PhD in Medical Microbiology and Immunology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Her research involves trying to figure out the mechanism by which Staphylococcus aureus acquires methicillin resistance.

As an undergraduate in VMS, Caitlyn served as a teaching assistant for Immunology Lab. She was also involved in the Biotechnology & Microbiology Club, which cemented her interest in the field of microbiology. “The club helped me learn what microbiology is all about and helped me to get to know many of the instructors as well as other students in the program,” she explains.

“I value so much of my time at NDSU,” she continues. “Looking back, I realize how, even though VMS was a fairly small program, the teaching hit so many facets of the microbiological field and gave me, as a student, a broad knowledge to help direct me to where I am today…I always felt comfortable talking with all the instructors especially if I had a problem not understanding something, had a question about a test, or just needed some advice on the future and what to expect in the field of Microbiology…The VMS Department was really so much fun, and I felt each instructor was a great mentor in their own way! I really don’t think I would be where I am today without them sharing their compassion for what they do and the drive they instilled in me to pursue my passion through education and life. I can’t begin to express my gratitude.”

Jason Feser graduated from NDSU in 2004 with a B.S. in biotechnology. While at NDSU, he completed his senior thesis project with Dr. Penelope Gibbs. His research involved analyzing avian fecal samples for the presence of Enterobacter sakazakii to discover natural reservoirs and means by which bacteria can spread. He also studied variation in isolated plasmid DNA samples to link differences in plasmids with pathogenicity. From 2003-2005, he worked at the NDSU Center for Nanoscale Science & Engineering using bacterial biofilms to screen ship coatings. The group he worked with developed a high through-put method to efficiently determine coating capability to inhibit biofilm formation. From these experiences, he chose to continue his research career by pursuing a doctoral degree. Speaking about his experiences at NDSU, Jason said, “I truly feel I was well prepared to transition to graduate school. The education provided an excellent framework while my research experiences provided the necessary skills and techniques. The microbiology faculty were always encouraging and happy to discuss ideas and give advice about research and careers. It was a great experience all around that set the stage for my future success.”

He enrolled at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and completed his Ph.D. in molecular biology in 2010. He studied the role chromatin structure and histone modifications play in modulating lifespan in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His research elucidated a novel means to extend lifespan. The level of histones, partially influenced by H3 K56 acetylation, was demonstrated to affect lifespan with higher levels of histones correlating with increased longevity. Along with his research work, he participated in many experiences outside the laboratory. He was heavily involved in student government and graduate issues at his school. He also volunteered at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to engage the public in science and was an advocate for higher education funding to the Colorado State Legislature. In engaging diverse audiences about the value of basic scientific research and scientific issues, he discovered a passion to apply his scientific expertise in broader opportunities outside of research. From this point, he decided to transition to a career in science policy.

To establish the necessary experience and connections, he applied and was chosen to become an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellow. He started his position in the fall of 2011 at the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the Division of Undergraduate Education. His work there will focus on providing support for ongoing educational programs in the Division and promoting communication of reports and information that will enhance educational experiences and opportunities across all undergraduate science and engineering disciplines.

“The AAAS Fellowship is providing a fabulous opportunity to assist NSF’s mission while also allowing many opportunities to develop my professional skills, networks, and advance my long-term career interests in science policy”, explains Jason. “Being centered in Washington DC allows many avenues to explore the entire breadth of science policy. Working with AAAS and NSF so far has been a wonderful experience, and I look forward to exploring all the possibilities this Fellowship will provide.”