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WVU’s 2021 Beckman Scholars to research healthcare applications

Jackie Arnold and Abigail Jones

Jackie Arnold and Abigail Jones are WVU's 2021 Beckman Scholars. (WVU Photo)

Undergraduate researchers at West Virginia University will spend the next year pursuing projects in enzymes and fungi— research that could ultimately help people with chronic diseases and develop new pharmaceuticals. 

Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources

Jackie Arnold and Abigail Jones got involved in research during their freshmen years. They are passionate about sharing their love of research with other students and demonstrating that anyone can get involved in research early in their academic careers.

“A lot of students have misconceptions about research as something for your later years of undergrad,” Arnold said. “But I want them to know you can get involved right away and contribute to the scientific community.”

The second cohort of WVU Beckman Scholars, Arnold and Jones will receive mentorship and training to become future scientific leaders and innovators, including an $18,200 stipend for their research work and $2,800 for research supplies or travel. Faculty mentors will receive a $5,000 stipend. They will also use their time in the program to help pay it forward, working to mentor fellow students who are early on in their research endeavors, as well as presenting their own research at conferences and poster presentations.

Jackie Arnold, a chemical engineering senior and Honors College student, started researching with the Department of Neuroscience in the first semester of her freshman year. She joined the Research Apprenticeship Program during her second semester and began working in her faculty mentor Cerasela Zoica Dinu’s laboratory in the Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Department, where she still researches today.

Her research focuses on investigating enzymes and finding the right synthetic environments for these enzymes to behave in the ways they should, some of which have potential applications in healthcare, such as biosensors to help patients with diabetes monitor their glucose levels.

From Charles Town, Arnold said she loves to volunteer at high school visitation days to encourage younger students to get involved in STEM fields. Arnold is a Bucklew Scholar, member of the Society of Women Engineers, and the outreach coordinator for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. This year, she is chief engineer of her year-long senior design project. After graduation, Arnold plans to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in research.

Abigail Jones, a junior biochemistry and Honors College student with a minor in psychology, got started in research after Dr. Daniel Panaccione spoke her freshman orientation class to about research opportunities at WVU. It sparked her interest, so she asked Panaccione if his lab was hiring and interviewed for a position there two days later.

In Panaccione’s laboratory, Jones works with ergot alkaloids, chemicals that can kill insects, or, when modified, can be used in pharmaceuticals. Jones said the work involves identifying specific fungi and manipulating them for these applications.

She encourages students to explore different research topics to find one they’re passionate about.

“Getting started in research isn’t as scary as people think it is,” Jones said. “Just go for it. Find an area you’re really interested in, and it will be worth it. You’ll want to do it every day.”

As a high school student in Wheeling, she had no idea what opportunities were available to her. Since coming to WVU, she has reached out to her high school principal so she can start to make these connections for future students. After graduation, Jones plans to pursue both a Ph.D. and a medical degree, later working as a physician scientist.

“Research completely rearranged how I want to move forward with my life,” Jones said. “It’s opening up so many doors.”

Up to two more WVU undergraduate student researchers may be selected for this opportunity next year, in the third and final selection year for the program at WVU. This opportunity to conduct funded research is thanks to the Beckman Scholars Program, which is providing $156,000 in funding and leadership development through the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. Students can learn more about the program requirements on the WVU Beckman Scholars Program website.

“We are grateful to the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for providing funding to support WVU's best and brightest students who are dedicated researchers and staunch advocates of the undergraduate research enterprise at WVU,” Michelle Richards-Babb, WVU Beckman Program Institutional contact, said. “Funding allows the Beckman Scholars to devote significant time to research and supports them in presenting and publishing research results. As Beckman Scholars, Jackie and Abigail will represent WVU's research enterprise at the national level, advertising not only the quality of WVU's research but also the educational value of WVU's undergraduate programming.”

WVU is among 12 top research universities across the United States selected for the 2020 Beckman Scholars Program by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. As a research-focused land-grant institution, WVU prioritizes fostering high-impact learning experiences for undergraduate student researchers, with students able to start research as early as their first semester through the Research Apprenticeship Program. The Office of Undergraduate Research connects students and faculty to provide opportunities for students to engage in scholarly inquiry and creative endeavors. Students who are interested in research can visit the website or email

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation was founded in 1977 by Dr. Arnold O. and Mabel Beckman and supports leading-edge research in the fields of chemistry and the life sciences.



Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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