Saginaw Valley State University student Cole Pero has worked hard in the classroom and in the lab, and it has resulted in an extraordinary opportunity to continue his academic career.
Graduating from SVSU in May, Pero has been accepted to begin his Ph.D. studies at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and he credits several factors for his success, including his introduction to student research through SVSU's Honors Program.
“The biggest thing is the research experience,” Pero said. “I would have never even been interested in this route if I hadn't had the research experience. Doing the research myself, I realized I liked it.”
Pero, a graduating biology major from Bay City, has steadily focused his academic interests by learning practical skills through job shadowing, research and the guidance of his mentor, Sylvia Fromherz, assistant professor of biology.
Pero's research – performed with the guidance of his professor and the wisdom gained from his job shadowing – will be featured as one of 52 research presentations showcased at SVSU's annual Science and Engineering Symposium on Friday, April 26, in Pioneer Hall. The public is invited to hear students discuss and demonstrate their work from 10 a.m. to noon.
The research projects presented will include poster, paper and panel presentations on topics ranging from best practices in tutoring to a study on the environmental impact of plastic microbeads.
Being able to not only make meaningful contributions to research as an undergraduate, but being able to lead the research at times, is something made Pero a more attractive candidate for graduate schools, he said.
“It'll be a research degree, but I'm going to a medical school,” Pero said. “I do like that I get to integrate the previous medical interest with the new research interest, so I'll still be learning a lot of the medical applications of the research. I think it's a good fit for me.”
Pero has one key piece of advice for undergraduates looking for a sense of direction:
“Shadowing,” he said, referring to his time observing practicing veterinary and medical professionals.
Pero started his college career intending to be a veterinary technician, which made the choice to major in biology an easy one for him. However, by observing work in the field for hundreds of hours, Pero determined veterinary medicine wasn't for him and moved on to human medicine and neuroscience, eventually focusing on biomedical research.
Starting in the winter of 2017, Pero has carried out research with Fromherz in the area of sensorimotor systems biology, the study of the part of the nervous system that allow animals to control their bodily movements.
“When he started, Cole was on a medical school trajectory, but he quickly caught the ‘research bug’ and absolutely showed himself to have all the attributes suggestive of a great budding scientist,” Fromherz said.
Pero presented his research at the December 2018 joint meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology and European Molecular Biology Organization in San Diego.
“That was a huge learning experience,” Pero said. “It can be very intimidating with all those professional scientists walking around. Just learning how to talk about my research, that's not something a lot of undergraduates get.”
Pero is also the president of the Judy V. Spencer Organization, a domestic violence information and advocacy group.
“I was always more of an introvert; I honestly don't know why I thought I could start an organization,” Pero said. “It definitely helped me become a more confident speaker, and that helps with interviews and with professional development.”
Through all these experiences, Pero has valued the practical knowledge that being a student and researcher at SVSU offered him. Other students should go out of their way to find these types of opportunities as undergraduates, Pero said.
“My research experience here has been a kind of shadowing experience,” Pero said. “Just try things, whatever you think you might be interested in, just give it a try for a while and see if it's right.”