For undergraduate college students to become well rounded, getting involved in groups and organizations outside of the classroom is a must. Saint Leo University is proud to offer over 70 clubs and chapters at University Campus for students of all interests. One such organization is the Beta Beta Beta (TriBeta) National Biological Honor Society chapter.
Classified under the Sigma Omega umbrella of TriBeta, this chapter was originally chartered at Saint Leo in 2003. Most members are biology majors or those in education degree programs interested in teaching in the STEM fields. The chapter currently has about 120 members.
A Strong Leader at the Helm
Hailey Kerns, 21, is the president of the TriBeta chapter. A 2018 graduate of Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Spring Hill, FL, she enrolled at Saint Leo University in the fall of that year in the biomedical and health sciences track of the biology degree program with a chemistry minor. She explains the genesis of her early interest in science.
“I have always had a passion for animals, so that’s what got me interested in biology,” Kerns shares. “In high school, I got interested in aliens, so my focus shifted to microbiology and the search for extraterrestrial life and the unknown.”
A Supportive Saint Leo Community
Now a senior, she says several of her Saint Leo biology instructors have been memorable.
“Dr. [Cheryl] Kozina has one of the best teaching methods I’ve seen in an instructor. She is very communicative and interactive. She has helped me with my internship applications and everything under the sun. Dr. [Sergiy] Borysov has helped me learn so much about cell biology, and I’ve done some brain cancer research with him for a drug he is looking to develop. Also, as a professor, he goes through the class material at a very nice pace which makes it easier to understand. Dr. [Iain] Duffy brings so much research experience to his classes and exposes us to so many unique research methods. I also completed the SEA Phages coursework with him where we studied viruses.”
In terms of Saint Leo University’s core values, she says personal development has by far been the most noteworthy of them for her.
“I was not expecting to come to Saint Leo and get so much research experience that I’ve gotten. It’s been amazing to have had so many one-on-one research opportunities with a multitude of professors. Everyone has been so supportive to help me become a better individual.”
Moving Up in the TriBeta Chapter
Kerns served as vice president of the TriBeta chapter during the 2020-2021 academic year. She was then elected as president this fall.
“I’ve been part of TriBeta throughout my entire college career,” she explains. “I wanted the chapter to be more diverse. When I first got involved, it was more oriented to students interested in going to medical school. I wanted to see the group consider all options with a biology degree and see it become more of a support group for students academically.”
The chapter’s executive board members include Kerns, Karl Nyman, vice president; Elizabeth Zacharias, treasurer; Tyrique Thomas, historian; and Selena Nieto, head of outreach. Board terms are for one year.
“Hailey is an amazing student and president of this chapter,” says Dr. Sergiy Borysov, an assistant professor of biology who serves as the faculty advisor for the TriBeta chapter. “By nature, she is an explorer and has diverse interests. She clearly wants to achieve as much as she can.”
Borysov adds that she has phenomenal leadership skills, making her a perfect fit for this role.
“She is team oriented and delegates duties to others very effectively. She has such a great strategy to engage all members to make sure everyone’s voice is heard.”
This fall, the chapter held a Rosalind Franklin Appreciation Month event. Students learned about this famous female English scientist. Franklin’s groundbreaking research in molecular biology was never adequately recognized during her lifetime due to her being a woman.
“We paired it with a genetics course going on,” Kerns explains. “Students wrote appreciation letters to her, and they participated in a DNA modeling contest.”
On Nov. 15, the chapter hosted a Vaccination Appreciation Day event. Dr. Jacob Aguilar, an assistant professor of mathematics and associate director of Saint Leo’s Honors Program, served on the panel. There were also three representatives from the University of South Florida. Dr. Donna Petersen, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the College of Public Health; Dr. Kevin Sneed, senior associate vice president of USF Health and dean of the Taneja College of Pharmacy; and Dr. Michael Teng, associate dean of Internal Medicine and associate professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology in the Morsani College of Medicine each shared their expert insight on vaccines.
“The goal of this event was to promote the value of vaccines for humanity,” Borysov says. “Of course, there was a focus on the COVID-19 vaccines, but it was a broader view of how vaccines in general should be viewed in a more positive light to help fight diseases.”
The chapter also has a mentorship program through which more experienced students can mentor newer students in both their academics and campus life. Plus, members have tutored local high school students in Pasco County.
Upcoming TriBeta Events for Spring 2022
The group hosts ongoing seminars on careers in biology to give students the ability to interact with experts in their desired fields. In the spring, the chapter plans to host a research symposium series in which students will have formal opportunities to present their original research in science.
“These events will be speaker oriented,” Kerns says. “We plan to have several doctors and other professionals across the broad biology field come to speak. Then we will have a symposium at which students will be able to present their research or literature reviews. This will be a great experience they will be able to put on their resumes.”
The members are also working with the National Brain Tumor Society to hold the university’s annual walk around campus as a fundraiser for this organization.
Benefits of Joining TriBeta
Kerns can’t say enough about why biology majors should become part of the TriBeta chapter.
“If you join this group, you will get so much support and information,” she says. “You will get to network with upperclassmen who’ve already gone through the courses you may be starting as a newer student. You’ll also get one-on-one time with some amazing professionals working in the field who are always willing to share what it took them to get to where they are in their careers.”
Borysov adds that membership can be a huge resume builder.
“Students can gain so many skills to make themselves more effective leaders in their next academic program if a student pursues graduate school or at a place of employment,” Borysov says. “Plus, it’s a fun, relaxed, and honest environment beyond the classroom.”
How TriBeta Has Transformed Kerns as a Student
Kerns attributes her involvement with TriBeta and other research projects she has pursued at Saint Leo University to helping her get involved in other leadership opportunities. She is a presidential member of the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS) and a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). This past summer, she completed an internship through a NASA-funded grant with the Florida Space Grant Consortium.
“I got to work at the University of Florida under Dr. Kelly Rice. We studied oral bacteria and how it is affected in gravity. It was a very solidifying experience for me in terms of what I want to study for grad school and my career. I got to work with some super expensive equipment in the labs there like rotary machines which simulate microgravity.”
She is applying to UF’s Ph.D. in microbiology program for the fall of 2022. She has one broad career goal but a very specific path she would love to take as well.
“My first goal is to work for NASA,” she says. “But my even bigger dream is to become an astronaut who studies microbiology. If I could visit anywhere else besides Earth, I’d definitely jump at that opportunity.”LEARN MORE: You can email Saint Leo University’s TriBeta chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the chapter pages on Instagram and Twitter where the group will be posting updates soon.