Slide background

Student Profile: Tara Rickman

by Web on April 5, 2016


Tara Rickman grasped the chance to conduct research as a freshman at Millsaps College, and it has paid off with an opportunity this summer in Chicago.

Rickman, a sophomore from Brandon, Mississippi, was selected to participate in a summer research program through the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at Loyola University Chicago for students interested in biomedical research.

Rickman will work in the lab of Dr. Karen Visick, where research focuses on Vibrio fischeri-squid mutualism: a model for investigating biofilm formation in an animal host.

“I applied to this program for multiple reasons, but the main reason is I met Dr. Visick last summer,” Rickman said. “I attended the annual American Society of Microbiology in New Orleans last May, and I met Dr. Visick through Dr. Beth Hussa (assistant professor of biology at Millsaps). Dr. Visick is one of Dr. Hussa’s former mentors.”

When applications for the summer program were due, Rickman eagerly applied and received an early offer. The experience will teach basic research skills and provide opportunities to attend various scientific seminars and journal clubs, as well as to participate in a series of special summer workshops and present results from research. Students will learn modern research techniques, such as maintaining cell cultures, gel electrophoresis, chromatography, immunoassays, animal surgery, and protein and nucleic acid molecular biology.

Rickman works with Hussa to study how bacteria relate to different host organisms, including insects and microscopic worms called nematodes. “We created a pilot project for which I presented the results at the Millsaps Student Symposium as well as at the Mississippi Academy of the Sciences’ annual meeting at the University of Southern Mississippi,” Rickman said.

Rickman said her involvement in the Millsaps College Department of Biology (where she works as a teaching assistant and takes care of the aquariums in Olin Hall) has helped her develop crucial lab techniques and improve her communication skills, study habits, and interpersonal skills, all of which will be useful throughout her professional and personal life. 

“My favorite aspect of attending Millsaps is how rewarding it is to not only enjoy what you're learning but to build relationships with your peers and professors,” she said. “There is a sense of unity and support within each field of study here that is unmatched at other schools.”

Rickman credits Hussa with seeing her potential as a freshman. “Her patience and guidance has opened up so many doors including my pilot research project, my summer internship, my becoming a Ford Fellow for this upcoming year, and so much more,” she said.

Hussa said Rickman exhibited a desire to truly understand and make connections between the concepts she taught her in introductory cell biology.

“She also came to me expressing interest in a research career, which is somewhat rare for a college freshman,” Hussa said. “Since Tara started working with me, her passion for learning how life works has become even more clear, and she demonstrates a maturity beyond her years, never taking the easy way out if it isn't the best way to approach a scientific problem.”

Rickman said she didn’t anticipate as a high school student that she would want to enroll at a small liberal arts college, but that changed with a visit.  “After I attended an Unlocking Millsaps event, I was completely taken by the feeling of individuality as opposed to a larger school where students tend to fade into the background,” she said.

For Rickman, the summer program will be another step along her journey to become a professor at a university where she could conduct research.

“The most challenging thing about being a student at Millsaps is holding yourself to high, yet achievable, standards,” she said. “We are challenged daily and nothing here comes easy but, in my opinion, that is what makes a degree from here hold so much value. I know when I leave Millsaps to pursue graduate school I'll be prepared for any new challenges to come.”