"People from Guam who eat these seeds have been turning up with symptoms of ALS and Parkinson's dementia complex," says Piana, winner of a student research award who published a paper on BMAA with two of her professors. They've presented their findings at two academic conferences.
Piana slides the cell plates into a microplate reader and hits a few keys on the computer next to it. "What we're looking at is how different drugs work on BMAA. The work we're doing here could help the people of Guam some day."
In a little while, numbers will begin appearing onscreen and Piana will enter copious notes into a thick notebook under the supervision of Dr. Doug Lobner, a physiology and neurobiology professor who researches treatment of stroke, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer"s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.
"Our undergraduates are an essential part of the research we do here," he says. "If they want to, they can start getting lab and research experience freshman year."
"It's not like other schools," says Piana, "where all the undergraduates do is wash dishes and clean, and graduate students get to do all the fun stuff."
She holds a test tube up to a light. "Here, I get to do the fun stuff."
Dr. Alex Ng
Ng says there are lots of reasons why the College of Health Sciences can be thought of as a gateway to many experiences and professions.
"Our degree gives you flexibility — lots of options," Ng says. "If you know where you want to go in health care, this is the place for you. If you don't, this is the place for you. As long as you have even a slight idea that helping people is what you really want to do, you'll find your niche here."
That's truly one of the great things about Marquette's College of Health Sciences. Another is that once you get started, you'll find that there are many possibilities in the health care field you can shoot for. And you can tailor your undergraduate degree to take you in whichever direction you want to go.
"It is a science degree," Ng says, "that you can use to go on to anything from medical school to science writing to sales.
"There are lots of doors open to you."
GINA AND JOE
On the other side of the building, three students are conducting studies in Dr. Alex Ng's neuromuscular physiology lab. Ng, who researches stress and muscle fatigue, has several undergraduate students working with him every semester.
One of them, Gina Corrado, is a biomedical sciences major and pre-dental scholar. After she completes her first three years of undergraduate work, she'll jump right into dental school at Marquette.
"When I first started here," she says, "I wanted to be a physical therapist. But after I started taking the classes, I realized it wasn't quite for me. My dad's a dentist, I've worked in his office, and I really like it. So I switched to pre-dent. I want to be an orthodontist."
In the meantime, Corrado is conducting studies on elderly patients and patients with HIV/AIDS, helping to determine how stress and fatigue affect these populations. They are in the beginning stages of these studies, and Ng thinks that what they learn will help determine what treatments, such as supplements and rehabilitation, can help reduce or end fatigue in these patients and others, such as cancer survivors or patients with MS.
Joe Farinella, a biomedical engineering major, also works in the lab.
"What I love about being here," says Farinella, who plans to get his M.B.A. and work for a medical company, "is that we're always learning something. We work with actual study subjects, we read and discuss scholarly journals, we have lots of meetings with Dr. Ng.
"We're always learning."
Aimee Anthony has started the professional phase of her speech-language pathology degree, meaning she just earned her bachelor's degree and is in year five of the program and now a graduate student. The day after Commencement, she was back in the classroom, starting master's classes.
Today, she is writing furiously in a well-worn notebook with the Marquette logo and a few handwritten e-mail addresses scribbled on the cover. Her professor is lecturing on bilingual English-Spanish speech-language pathology.
"Classes are challenging," Anthony says. "But I'm so excited to be here. I love what I'm doing."
Even though she"s only beginning the master"s part of her program, Anthony has already completed a number of clinicals — she"s tutored and interpreted for Spanish-speaking people, studied in Xalapa, Mexico, and traveled to Honduras with Global Medical Relief, a group of Marquette students who, along with medical professionals, deliver health care services to people living in remote villages.
"The clinicals start when you're an undergrad," Anthony says. "You're exposed to every disorder possible so that you're comfortable with all of them. There are also so many other opportunities to get out and help people, such as my trip with Global Medical Relief. It goes beyond clinicals and the classroom."
Class over, Anthony spills out into the hall with the other students. Her cell rings. "Yeah, OK, see you tonight," she says and hangs up. "There are so many opportunities for friendship here, too. And if you want an urban campus, this is the place to be. I love Milwaukee."
Lucky Denenga came to the United States from Zimbabwe, Africa, to study physical therapy. After a visit to the Marquette campus, she headed east to Lake Michigan and was shocked by what she saw.
"Zimbabwe is a land-locked country," she says. "I had never seen such a big body of water before."
Now Denenga is working alongside an even bigger body of water in Portland, Ore. The facility where she is doing one of her clinicals is just a few miles from the ocean. "Marquette's physical therapy program gets you out of the classroom and into situations where you're working with real patients," Denenga says.
And they're not all in Milwaukee.
"I was looking for experience in both outpatient orthopedics and women's health, and it just so happened that there is a facility in Portland doing it," Denenga says. "I found I could get credit for it. So here I am."
In about two minutes, Denenga will be on a conference call with her adviser, a Marquette clinical assistant professor. They talk every week. Kontney calls right on time. Twenty minutes later, their business conducted, Denenga says goodbye. It's the end of the workday. But Denenga"s anything but tired.
"In 15 minutes, my roommates are picking me up," she says. "We're going hiking and camping on the Pacific coast."