Alumni Profile: Meagan Byrne '11, B.S. Biology, University Honors College

by Kathleen McCoy  |   

Meagan Byrne is not afraid to admit that moving to Alaska to go to college never crossed her mind. As a lifelong gymnast from California, and coming from the nationally renowned SCATS Gymastics program, Meagan had athletic opportunities at several Division 1 schools.

"When I saw the packet from UAA, I completely dismissed it. But my dad didn't," Meagan said.

UAA biology alum Megan ByrneMeagan's dad scheduled a visit for her and her family to come to Anchorage and scope out UAA's campus and life sciences program. After visiting and meeting UAA gymnasts, Meagan decided UAA was the right fit for her. "Everyone was really nice, and Alaska is so beautiful, it was hard to dismiss it after seeing it for yourself."

Immediately after becoming a Seawolf, her fellow gymnasts took her in. "We all connected and I became part of their family," she said. By her sophomore year, Meagan's teammates elected her team captain. As captain, Meagan led team meetings, made sure teammates were ready for competitions, helped settle and solve conflicts amongst the group and communicated with the coach regularly. "It was a surprise for me that people wanted me to step up into a leadership role. It was nerve wracking at first, but eventually I got used to it." Meagan remained captain until 2010-11-her last year with the Seawolves.

In her time as a UAA gymnast, Meagan finished her career without missing a single meet-a total of 49 straight appearances. In 2010 Meagan was voted, for the third straight year, to the Scholastic All-American Team by the National Association of Women's Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches. In 2007, she received the Most Coachable Award at the team banquet.

Not only was she a student-athlete and captain of the gymnastics team, Meagan also became a University Honors College student, where she conducted significant undergraduate research. She was also one of three students to receive the National Science Foundation's National Consortium for Measurement and Signature Intelligence Research (NCMR) scholarship grants. Meagan received a scholarship grant of $10,000 for the 2010-11 academic year to help with tuition, books and living expenses. She is also the recipient of an Alaska IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) summer fellowship. Meagan was mentored by Cindy Knall, biomedical program assistant professor.

Meagan researched "The Effects of the Loss of Fence Function between Lung Epithelial Cells Exposed to Cigarette Smoke," supported by a 2010 UAA undergraduate research grant. Meagan grew healthy and tumor bronchial cells, exposed them to cigarette smoke and stained the protein using fluorescent tagging. She then used a microscope that takes images on different z axis positions to see whether the proteins have moved from the bottom (basolateral) side to the top (apical) side of the cell or vice versa. If the proteins moved, the polarity of the cell is lost and a lot of the functions of the cell can be lost.

When Meagan started at UAA as a biology major, she knew she eventually wanted to go to medical school. "After working on my research, I knew that this is what I wanted to do with my life-go to medical school."

This year Meagan really shined as a UAA scholastic leader. Meagan received a 2011 USUAA Leadership Honors Scholarship, was nominated for a Research Discovery Award by the Biology Department, and shadowed staff in the Critical Care Unit and Internal Medicine at Alaska Native Medical Center.

In spring 2011 Meagan also took the course, Human Gross Anatomy (BIOL 490). Known as the "cadaver lab," this is a special UAA course that requires an approval process to enroll in the class. Students learn an in-depth review of human gross anatomy and relevant kinesiology for medical and/or health professionals, and a significant portion of the course involves dissection sessions in the human gross anatomy laboratory.

"Our first week, we dissected the back," Meagan said, "It's a lot more real than reading a textbook obviously."

It was this course that Meagan realized getting accepted to WWAMI, Alaska's Medical School, was the next item on her to-do list. "I know UAA now. Part of the process of being a college student is learning about UAA, but also allowing it to get to know you too," Meagan said. "I've made lots of great connections and met amazing people here. The connections I made with faculty helped get me to where I am today. I can't imagine leaving now."

UAA's dedicated faculty and staff really motivated Meagan to apply to WWAMI. "I know most of the professors who teach in the WWAMI program and know how dedicated they are. It's a great medical school to get into."

Meagan said it is UAA's smaller class sizes that keep students from blending in, making them become more active in the classroom. "The smaller class sizes allow professors to give individual attention to students and help them emerge from the background," she said.

Meagan's now thankful her dad wanted to visit UAA and see what it offered. Meagan graduated in spring 2011 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in psychology and will soon apply to WWAMI after completing her Medical College Admissions Test (Mcat).

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