I hadn’t thought of research as being an option until I came here and got those connections and one-on-one mentorships. It opened doors I probably wouldn’t have known were there.
Ashlyn Grace Kelly, ’23, is a passionate undergraduate researcher who recently earned a prestigious scholarship. But, for Ashlyn, studying neurodegenerative diseases is about much more than recognition. It’s personal.
Her grandfather, Donald Kelly, passed away after battling Alzheimer's disease when she was young and her grandmother, Vita Kelly, has Parkinson’s disease.
“Those experiences have definitely motivated me to want to contribute in some way to Alzheimer’s disease research,” said Ashlyn, who majors in biology and mathematics and minors in biochemistry at Bridgewater State University. “I feel so lucky I go to BSU and am part of such an amazing lab focused on this.”
Ashlyn, who works in Biological Sciences Associate Professor Ken Adams’ lab, received the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the 2021-2022 academic year. The national award, given to approximately 400 undergraduates each year, recognizes accomplishments in natural science, engineering and mathematics. It includes a monetary award and the opportunity to connect with students at top institutions across the country.
“I had no expectations. I really enjoyed the process of applying,” said Ashlyn, of Scituate, who Facetimed with her grandmother and embraced other family members after learning the news. “There was a lot of yelling and high fiving.”
Hannah Deane, ’21, became BSU’s first Goldwater Scholar a year ago. Having back-to-back recipients reflects Bridgewater’s focus on increasing the quality of education and research, Adams said.
Students such as Ashlyn benefit from that ascent and help propel BSU even higher.
“She’s a natural thinker,” Adams said. “She’s one of those students who sits in the front row because she’s there to learn.”
Ashlyn works with Adams and her peers to study the protein apolipoprotein E, which has multiple variations that can be a genetic indicator of a person’s risk for contracting Alzheimer’s. They focus on better understanding a rare mutation that a case study on one person indicated might offer better protection against Alzheimer’s. The work could eventually contribute to treatments.
Ashlyn also received a Bartlett Scholarship from BSU. It enables her to spend the summer with fellow student Michaela Cunningham in Dr. Bradley Hyman’s Alzheimer’s disease research laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“If you had told me before I came to BSU that I would be at one of the biggest hospitals in Boston, I would not have believed you,” Ashlyn said. “I can’t wait to learn more and grow more as an undergraduate researcher and keep making those connections.”
In addition to Alzheimer’s research, Ashlyn is launching a Women in STEM club and helps students in chemistry classes master subject material. She has also researched with BSU professors Christopher Bloch and Saritha Nellutla.
“I hadn’t thought of research as being an option until I came here and got those connections and one-on-one mentorships,” she said. “It opened doors I probably wouldn’t have known were there.”
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