Pink Slip to Scientist: Rowan-Cabarrus Graduate Researches Bioactive Compounds, Inflammation

Pink Slip to Scientist: Rowan-Cabarrus Graduate Researches Bioactive Compounds, Inflammation

May 09, 2013

In 2008, Mickey Wilson knew it was time for a change. His job of 13 years with Freightliner in Cleveland, NC looked like it would be coming to an end as the company laid-off employees and struggled financially. Moving into another quality control job with another company didn’t seem appealing. So he made a decision to turn a pending pink slip into a green light to change his life by enrolling in Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s two-year, applied science degree program in biotechnology.

“I had an understanding of biotechnology, but I really didn’t know what I was getting in to,” Wilson said. “Once we got past the basic biology (and) into recombinant DNA and immunology, it intrigued me, especially cell culture and bioprocessing. It was absolutely fascinating! The brilliant teaching and patience of Dr. Carol Scherczinger, Dr. Allan Kaufman and Meghan Davis helped me believe and realize my potential in science. They are just one of the reasons why I am so good at what I do. I not only consider them mentors but friends as well. I owe a lot to them.”

His fascination only increased when he landed an internship with the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute at the NC Research Campus as part of Rowan-Cabarrus’ cooperative education program. He began working in the lab of Slavko Komarnytsky, PhD, metabolic biology and pharmacogenomics assistant professor. Komarnytsky’s lab is focused on efficacy and safety of botanicals and natural products and is working to identify their bioavailability and bioactivity as possible treatments or preventatives for human health. He also collaborates with other PHHI scientists who value the lab’s cell culture facilities.

Wilson’s internship became a part-time job as a research lab technician in 2012. “When I first got here, I did menial things, but Dr. Komarnytsky, I guess, saw the potential in my ability to understand and apply myself, so he gave me projects,” Wilson said. “Most of the work I do is bacterial and animal cell culture. I can run just about every piece of equipment in the lab. One of my projects entitled Biofilm Formation and Cell Invasion among Environmentally Persistent Escherichia coli Isolates from South Africa Watersheds has been accepted for oral presentation at the International Association of Food Protection (IAFP) 2013 Conference this July in Charlotte. I am very excited about this opportunity.”

Learning By Example
Wilson learned the importance of making life changes from his parents. His father moved their family from Bluefield, Virginia in the mid-1990s when his produce business was hit by the economy. He got in the car and drove until he came to Salisbury. He found a job selling cars and visited home on weekends for a year. His father later retired from the Winn-Dixie grocery store chain.

His mother worked at the textile mill in Kannapolis in quality control until it closed in 2003.  She took advantage of the retraining benefits given to employees to become a medical transcriptionist. Wilson, who is one of five children, joined his family in Salisbury in 1996 after finishing his service in the United States Army as a light wheel and track mechanic.

Looking Ahead
Wilson is happy in his current position, but he is not satisfied. As his wife Priscilla finishes classes in medical lab technology and phlebotomy, he’s preparing to enroll at Rowan-Cabarrus again to complete general education requirements in preparation for transferring to a university to obtain a four-year degree in biology. After that, he’s weighing the pros and cons of getting a master’s or a doctorate degree.

“I always liked science- always- but I never had the opportunity or the push to get into to it until the last huge lay-off they (Frieghtliner) had out there in 2009,” he reflected. Pointing to a Freightliner coffee cup on his desk, he added, “They even called me back, and I turned them down. So I might still have the mug, but it is in my past. ”

Komarnytsky is glad to hear that. “I think he’s a great,” he said. “I ran into Dr. Kaufman from Rowan-Cabarrus, and he said Mickey was one of the best students. I think he is an example of what this campus is about- basically to nurture dreams, change careers and to change lives.”

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