Inside USD

Alumni Research Award Matches Bagley’s Desire

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Michael Bagley may only be 19 years old, but the sophomore biochemistry major, in many respects, is already showing signs of being one of “them.”

“Michael’s got the scientific curiosity, the instinct, the perseverance,” says Tammy Dwyer, USD Chemistry professor and Bagley’s preceptor and academic advisor. “He understands that not every lab experiment you run will work. He sees the bigger picture, which is your role in moving the science along. He’s gotten the message early. He doesn’t expect everything to work the first time, but he does know you can optimize your chances for success when you’re careful, patient and prepared.”

Dwyer, a professor at USD since 1994, has taught and mentored many chemistry and biochemistry standouts. Bagley, however, has accomplished something no previous alum in this academic department had the chance to do. Bagley is the inaugural recipient of the USD Chemistry and Biochemistry Department Alumni Summer Research Scholarship. The award, a $4,000 stipend, covers the winner’s summer research lab work and helps with summer on-campus housing up to $1,000. It was created through generous and dedicated alumni support, including those who attended the department’s first-ever alumni reunion last summer.

“For a student like Michael, with an award like this, it honors the alumni who came before him,” she said.

Bagley said he was honored to receive the award and amazed, too. “There are alumni in the field who are noticing my dedication to science and it’s a good sense of self-accomplishment to get this far already and have people already in the field noticing my work.”

Bagley had medical school aspirations upon his arrival at USD. He liked USD for its small class size and undergraduate research opportunities. Entering as a PURE (Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience) student, he worked in Professor Robert Dutnall’s lab the summer prior to his freshman fall semester. That’s when Bagley’s academic path began to change.

“I was pre-med halfway through that first semester, but after doing research for a month and a half and I understanding what I was doing, I just fell in love with it. It was my place, it was where I belong. I thought I might be a good doctor, but I just love lab work and I love thinking up new ideas and new approaches to things.”

Talking to others, too, about their research experiences, Bagley knew he made the right decision coming to USD.

“I talked with others doing internships in their labs and they weren’t really working with anything, maybe prepping stuff, something like that. Here, though, they’re giving you your own project and, if you run into walls with the research, you get to collaborate with the professor. It’s way more hands-on here.”

Bagley has worked exclusively in Dutnall’s lab. He worked as a SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) student in 2011. The alumni research scholarship will keep him in Dutnall’s Shiley Center for Science and Technology lab to do research again this year.

“We’re examining the structure and functionality of histone chaperones,” said Bagley of the research being done. “Histones are proteins responsible for packaging DNA into chromosomes.”

Debbie Tahmassebi, USD Chemistry and Biochemistry Department Chair and Professor, has announced a second department alumni event, June 9, at USD. As the first winner of the alumni research scholarship, she said Bagley would give a presentation of his research at the event.

He’ll be ready for it, too. Bagley is a USD Ambassadors Club member and he works in the USD Torero Store when he’s not working in a science lab. But when he says he enjoys spending his free time tutoring younger USD students who are trying to grasp general chemistry class, you know he’s committed.

“That’s why I think I want to become a teacher,” he said. “I really love helping others understand it.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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