Through biology major Shavonna Bent’s two summers of research in professor Elizabeth Dolci’s microbiology lab, she developed what she calls a “passion for bacteria.” Her work screening bacteria from the nearby, inactive Vermont Asbestos Group Mine for antibiotic production may help address the growing, global problem of antibiotic resistance. But as focused and passionate as she is about her field of study, Shavonna’s willingness bring her intelligence, persistence and curiosity to bear on important issues extends beyond the campus lab.
The Braintree, VT junior’s hands-on approach is evident in her role as Student Government Association president as well active involvement with the JSC Green Solutions and Serious about Science clubs. Her efforts as part of these groups have led to an array of initiatives, from residence-hall-based composting, to a student book exchange, to the SGA-led effort to raise new flagpoles on the campus quad that now fly social justice flags supporting LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and Prisoners of War/Missing in Action. Shavonna credits Johnson State for making it possible for her to be involved in so many ways. She says that her research and campus involvement “have allowed me to grow in two very different ways that are complementary. You can be very involved with academics and do research, but that doesn’t limit you to only doing research. You can be involved all over campus, and I really enjoy that.”
Her research and campus advocacy have had impacts beyond College Hill, too. In September 2016, she was elected to a one-year term as president of the Vermont State Colleges Student Association (VSCSA), with students from the five Vermont State Colleges System (VSCS) institutions, working on system-wide efforts to help lobby the Vermont legislature for increase financial support for public higher education and implement a system-wide ban on smoking on the VSCS campuses. Additionally, in 2016 Shavonna and her JSC research partners presented their work at the annual Posters on the Hill symposium in Washington, D.C., and the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Asheville, North Carolina, both sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. And she just got word that she has been awarded a highly competitive National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts for summer 2017.
Shavonna, a first-generation college student whose 4.0 GPA has earned her a full-tuition scholarship every year, feels the education and experience she’s gained at JSC will help her achieve her personal and professional goals — after graduate school, she plans to pursue a career in marine or conservation biology and be a strong advocate for environmental health. “My classes have not only taught me the important core material about science but also how to think like a scientist. Having a liberal arts curriculum has also forced me to step outside the box and think like someone who can write creatively,” she says. “It’s really valuable that we’re encouraged to think in ways that are not comfortable for me.”