By Sarah Campbell, Salisbury Post
KANNAPOLIS — While most of Grace Millsap’s classmates at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte will be scrambling to find a job after they graduate in May, she’ll simply be transitioning to a full-time gig.
Millsap, who started interning at UNC’s Nutrition Research Institute on the campus of the North Carolina Research Campus about a year and a half ago, landed a part-time job in December and is going full time in a few weeks.
“I never would have dreamed that I could work at a place like this,” she said. “The studies going on here are amazing and the scientists who work here and carry out their research are very dedicated.”
After earning her a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Appalachian State University, Millsap decided to pursue a biology degree.
“My goal when I decided to go back to school was to eventually get my (doctorate) in neuroscience,” she said. “I thought biology would be a good link between what I wanted to do and what I need to learn.”
Millsap said when her biology professor told the class about the internship available at the Research Campus, she immediately looked into the opportunity.
“I heard cognition and nutrition and my brain just kind of turned on,” she said. “It sounded like exactly what I wanted to do and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Millsap runs the interview sessions and screenings to recruit study participants and does data entry to track feedback.
She said the internship has given her the opportunity to shadow scientists and use equipment that she otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
“It’s been interesting to see the hoops they have to jump through to make sure everything is done the right way to ensure the results are accurate and valid,” she said.
Millsap said her work at the Research Campus has confirmed her desire to pursue a career in brain research.
“I feel like everything I absorb from this place kind of helps shape me into what I’m supposed to do one day,” she said.
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Millsap isn’t the only student benefiting from an internship at the UNC Nutrition Research Institute.
The institute opened its Scholar’s Cove in February, funded by a $75,000 grant from The Cannon Foundation, to provide students with equipment, training facilities, collaborative areas and individual focus space.
“This space reflects the vibrant learning community in which we are proud to operate,” Dr. Steven Zeisel, Nutrition Research Institute director, said in a press release.
Hillary Tuggle, a senior at A.L. Brown High School, has been assisting with the institute’s marketing department, working on promotional materials for the entire building. She uses the space five days a week.
“I’m glad it’s available for us,” she said. “It’s nice for us to be able to come here and get our work done.”
Tuggle plans to attend Appalachian in the fall, but she’s not sure what area of study she’ll pursue. But she said her internship has helped narrow the focus to the science field.
“It’s been a good opportunity to explore and see what I might want to do,” she said.
Tuggle said she’s been able to hone her writing skills and shadow a number of professionals.
“It’s expanded my horizons and it’s prepared me a little bit more for college,’ she said.
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Niju Khatiwada, a junior at Northwest Cabarrus High School, spends the majority of her two days at the Nutrition Research Institute managing data for various studies.
She isn’t earning credit for class, but Khatiwada said she’s racking up valuable experience.
“Everyone knows about Excel, but even within Excel there are so many different programs and so many different features, it’s really kind of fun going through and learning about them,” she said.
Khatiwada said the internship has strengthened her listening and time management skills.
And, it’s grown her love of the brain.
“I’ve always had a kind of fascination with the brain itself because it’s not like any other organ, it’s just really interesting to me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to do something with the brain and this internship has helped me confirmed that I defiantly to do something like neurology.”
Khatiwada said she plans to continue her work at the institute during her senior year.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” she said. ‘I think more people should know about it and do it because it definitely helps make a bridge between high school and college.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.