Two Transfer Students Find Belonging at UCF Through Research

Holly Monroe and Kathleen Velez standing next to their research poster

Two transfer students recently took advantage of a special program to scratch their itch for learning research skills.  

Mosquitos and their vulnerability to pesticides was the focus of research by Biology students Holly Monroe and Kathleen Velez. Both took advantage of the Transfer Student Research Integration Program (TRIP) to help acclimate to campus and begin developing good research habits.   

The program culminated with presenting their findings at the 2023 Student Scholar Symposium and 2023 Florida Undergraduate Researcher Conference.  

“Presenting the research was a lot of fun, people were actually interested in our topic and some people were even very passionate about the topic, which was something that we were not expecting,” Velez said.  

Their research focused on the use of agrochemicals, particularly Roundup, and its long-term effects on mosquitos and human health. Monroe and Velez, with the help of Biology Professor Ken Fedorka, Ph.D., manipulated different concentrations of the chemical to see the impact on the mosquitos’ immune systems. 

“If the mosquito’s immune system is compromised, then they can’t fight off an infection, and they pass on the virus to us,” Velez explained.  

Working with live specimens, particularly specimens with a quick life cycle, had the pair in the lab multiple times a day based on the stages of the mosquito’s development.  

“We started rearing the mosquitoes in containers. Their life cycle is about two weeks, so we were definitely on their time,” Velez said.  

Monroe joked that it was nerve-wracking making sure the mosquitos did not escape into the biology lab. Velez shared they only had to worry about the female mosquitos escaping, because they are the only ones that bite and can transmit viruses. 

Holly Monroe and Kathleen Velez in the lab

Both Velez and Monroe credit the TRIP program with making them feel more comfortable at UCF and the lab bench. Monroe said the program is well-paced throughout the two years: “We focus on just learning in the beginning, learning about opportunities, careers and what UCF has to offer us as transfer students.” 

Once the two got deeper into the program, they began to learn more about research methods and eventually had a topic assigned to them. Velez reflects that the program is well structured; they learned about mosquitos with a professor for about an hour each class and then would apply that knowledge in the laboratory.  

Both Monroe and Velez believe they have gained invaluable skills and experience from participating in TRIP. Monroe, being primarily interested in zoology, attributes her new full-time job at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens to her involvement in TRIP: “It set me apart from other candidates”. 

After graduation, Velez will be attending the University of Minnesota, pursuing a dual degree including a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and a Ph.D. in Comparative and Molecular Biosciences. 

Velez found TRIP to be helpful in finding her space in a huge student body like UCF, “I was part of a group of students with similar interests and experiences, and we always had classes together. This was such a crucial foundational support for me and everyone in the cohort, as we learned what research entails.” 

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