While the term “unique” is often overused, Clayton State University Lecturer of Biology Nikki Sawyer can certainly claim to have a unique perspective on the University’s new science building. A 2007 graduate of Clayton State, Sawyer matriculated at the University in 2004, or just about the same time as it became clear that a science building was a necessity for the University’s future growth. As a result, she’s ready to see another dream made real at Clayton State.
“I was one of the 'non-traditional' students that came to Clayton State after several years -- 11 to be exact -- away from academia,” she explains. “Going straight into the workforce after high school, I held various jobs; the longest was eight years at the postal service; before deciding to return to college to get a degree in science.”
As a result of her academic background, Sawyer says she still feels a real connection to Clayton State students... because so many of them are older, non-traditional students.
“Clayton State really is the place where dreams are made real... for people of all ages!” she exclaims.
A lifelong resident of the Southern Crescent, Sawyer’s dream at Clayton State started in the spring of 2004 as a biology major. Following a very successful career as a Clayton State student – she was named the 2007 Chancellor's Academic Recognition Award Recipient, and graduated summa cum laude in May of that year – she was accepted to both Columbia University and Emory University’s graduate schools.
“My experience at Clayton State and the excellent preparation by the science faculty allowed me to get accepted at both Columbia University and Emory University for graduate school,” she says. “I've spent the last six-and a-half-years working towards my doctorate degree in neuroscience at Emory, studying the interplay between stress and epilepsy and how stressful situations work to trigger seizures in the epileptic brain.”
It was while Sawyer was studying at Emory, in August 2012, that Clayton State Natural Sciences Department Chair Dr. Michelle Furlong contacted her about joining the faculty at Clayton State.
“I jumped at the chance to come back and teach at a place that I felt really contributed towards my success as a scientist,” she says. “This is now the third semester that I have been a full-time faculty member here, and I am going to be finishing my doctorate degree at Emory in a matter of weeks.”
Given her background, it’s not surprising that Sawyer is thrilled about the most recent development in the natural sciences at Clayton State.
“I am extremely thrilled about the new science building,” she says. “I have always been thankful for the science program here at Clayton State, and especially for the faculty that have helped me succeed beyond my imagination in my career as a scientist.
“The science building will be a cherry on the top of the excellent programs already in place, and I believe that having access to these new, updated facilities will allow Clayton State to improve the already wonderful science program and expand the research capabilities of the faculty. Just as important, the construction of this new building will focus attention on Clayton State's outstanding faculty and research and allow people to see that Clayton State is a good place to come to get a science degree.”
It also should not come as a surprise that Sawyer’s department chair has similar feelings about the science building.
“The new science building will certainly provide us with the opportunity to expand the enrollment of the entire university, since all programs require at least one semester of laboratory science courses,” Furlong points out. “Additionally, the new research laboratories will enhance our ability to mentor innovative undergraduate research projects and will allow us to offer graduate programs in the sciences. Engaging students in research at the graduate and undergraduate level is essential to their future success as scientists.”
Sawyer’s experience as an undergraduate is a good example of the type of innovative undergraduate research projects that Furlong remarks upon. As part of her curriculum at Clayton State, Sawyer did research with Professor of Biology Dr. Stephen Burnett, who is now, of course, a colleague of Sawyer’s.
“We were able to get a paper published detailing our research results into differences in echolocation calls between male and female brown bats,” recalls Sawyer.
Going back to what she sees as the essence of Clayton State, the supportive community the University provides for its students, Sawyer herself is an example of that support.
I may be biased, but I believe the undergraduate science education that I received here was better than one I could have gotten from other universities. A large part of the difference is the family-like atmosphere here and the wonderful interaction between faculty and students,” she claims.” I hope that the new science building will change how many people see Clayton State and that the science program here can actually get the credit it deserves.
“I am also excited at the prospect of getting hired into a tenure-track faculty position so that I can permanently join the ranks of the excellent faculty who care deeply about seeing their students succeed. As a former beneficiary of the excellent education offered by the science department, I am thrilled at this opportunity to give back to the Clayton State community as a new faculty member and help new generations of students fulfill their dreams to become doctors, vets, pharmacists, nurses, dental hygienists, and yes, even research scientists!”