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Morgan Named Outstanding Senior in College of Ag Sciences
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 07/01/2022

Jasmine Morgan, who graduated in May with a bachelor's degree in veterinary and biomedical sciences, was selected as the 2022 Outstanding Senior in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

A native of Alexandria, Va., Morgan was chosen from among 15 applicants representing nine majors to receive the award, which is sponsored by the Ag Alumni Society and coordinated by Coaly Society, an honorary society for College of Agricultural Sciences students who have demonstrated excellence in leadership and academic performance.

For Morgan, who entered college with aspirations of conducting veterinary research, Penn State was the ideal choice.

"I wanted to go to a school that had a pre-veterinary program but that was also focused on research," she said. "I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I didn't know exactly what that looked like for me, but I knew what it didn't look like. Rather than being a traditional veterinarian working in a clinic, I wanted to combine research and veterinary science. The college helped me on that path."

During her undergraduate career, Morgan served as a research assistant in the Animal Diagnostic Laboratory, working under the supervision of Meera Surendran Nair, assistant clinical professor and resident in veterinary microbiology. She conducted research for her honors thesis, evaluating the use of next-generation genomic sequencing as a surveillance tool to better characterize infectious outbreaks of coryza, an acute respiratory disease in poultry.

"Jasmine is dedicated, hardworking and motivated to excel in animal health research," Nair said. "She is inquisitive and enthusiastic about learning new things, and her experience in bioinformatics training will place her in a prime position among her peers."

Through her lab research, Morgan said she was exposed to a diverse group of mentors and peers who were essential in her development as a person, scientist and community member.

"The experience taught me the value of persistence, trial-and-error, and learning from both failures and achievements," she said. "It also helped me develop communication skills through discussing, writing and presenting my research to peer and professional audiences."

Morgan also credits her involvement in various campus organizations -- particularly Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANNRS) -- for helping her develop leadership capabilities and support fellow students.

"The goal of MANNRS is to provide a space for minorities or marginalized people who feel left out," she said. "It's no secret that minority retention in biological sciences is low, and that can be attributed to limited support, the presence of prejudice, and lack of grace often found in academic and professional settings. I wanted to help sustain support for these underrepresented communities at Penn State by creating environments that support academic success as well as mental well-being."

To do this, Morgan worked with faculty and students to create and strengthen connections with other organizations in the college and in the Eberly College of Science to create spaces where students could study, share cultural experiences and relax together.

She also mentored fellow students, helping them strengthen their study skills and learn how to network. "I want marginalized students to know that they belong and to have that moment of 'I can do this,'" she said. "It was so rewarding to watch minority students gain confidence and learn how to advocate for themselves."

She also attributes her success to an additional mentor, Derek James, coordinator of multicultural programs in the college, who guided her interests and gave her the tools and space to make impactful changes.

In 2021, Morgan was awarded first place for an essay submitted to the Undergraduate Diversity Essay Contest, sponsored by the college's Diversity Coordinating Council. Students were asked to write on the topic, "Why is it important to understand, appreciate and value diversity in your professional field?"

Her essay, "How Homogeneity Has Robbed Us of Public Health Advancements," examined how the lack of diversity in public health research fields impedes significant scientific progress from social and biological standpoints and stressed the need to create more diversity in STEM and public health fields.

When she reflects on her time at Penn State, Morgan said that leaning into change and being resilient were the most valuable skills she gained. "Penn State continually offered me opportunities that challenged me," she said. "When I dealt with adversity, my mentors taught me the skills to adapt to any situation and remain resilient."

As she continues her academic career, Morgan is especially interested in translational medicine. "I want to help figure out how we can tie animal and human medicine together so we can solve multiple problems," she said. "For example, COVID started in animals and jumped to humans, so a better understanding of the pathology of animal science can help not only animal health but human health as well."

Over the summer, Morgan is advancing her knowledge of animal health by working as a digital pathology intern for Charles River Laboratories, where she helps develop and test machine learning methods. In the fall, she will attend the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

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