back to news June 9, 2016

Graduate Realizes Dream of Presenting Cancer Research With Alumna’s Generosity

Andrea Holderbaum (BS, biology, 2016), a newly minted alumna from Mason, OH, says she “fell in love with research” while a student at Ohio State, where she devoted much of her time to working in a cancer genetics research lab under the guidance of Christin Burd, assistant professor, Department of Molecular Genetics. In particular, she studied the role of ultraviolet radiation in the etiology of melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, driven by mutations in NRAS, a gene that regulates cell division.

In early spring, Holderbaum was invited to present her abstract, “In vivo modeling of NRAS-mutant melanoma reveals differential preventative efficacy amongst SPF30 sunscreens,” at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting, which was held in April in New Orleans. The invitation was a dream come true, but Holderbaum struggled to secure funding to cover the costs of travel and conference fees.

“Because of the way my scholarship works, I was ineligible for many sources of university aid,” she explained.

With the Eleanor Ruffing McMahon Award for Conference Travel, Holderbaum was able to travel to New Orleans to not only present her research but also to experience — for the first time — a professional conference with research scientists from around the globe.

“It was such a great experience. I really enjoyed being able to both present my work to people who would think critically about it and to listen to presentations by so many others. It was a wonderful opportunity to be in a professional environment within my field.”

The Eleanor Ruffing McMahon Award for Conference Travel is an annual gift from the Hon. Colleen McMahon (BA, 1973, political science), United States District Judge for Southern District of New York. The award supports undergraduate women honors students in the arts and sciences to attend conferences to deliver papers based on their research.

A first-generation student, Holderbaum was grateful to receive the award.

“It was so nice to have our alumni recognize my professional potential and support me in my growth. You don't grow very much professionally just sitting in the classroom and getting good grades, and to me, this award meant that someone cared about my development outside of academics.”

In April, Holderbaum had an opportunity to meet the person responsible for the award, Judge McMahon.

“We talked a lot about her life, she shared stories from her undergraduate career here, and it was interesting to hear about her experiences. We had a lot in common, and talked about what it means to be a successful, professional woman. She shared her own experiences of balancing family with a demanding career and about throwing yourself wholeheartedly into your work, even when the road ahead is all uphill (the challenge of which we both enjoy!).”

Holderbaum is currently working as a research assistant in Burd’s lab. Future plans include enrolling in a Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) to earn both her MD and PhD.

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