Miami University senior microbiology major Hope Kirby has been awarded a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. She is one of 60 students from 44 universities to receive the award for the 2021-2022 academic year.
Hope Kirby (images by Jeff Sabo)
Miami University senior Hope Kirby, a microbiology major from Glendale, Arizona, has been awarded a scholarship from the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation (ASF). She is one of 60 students from 44 universities to receive the award for the 2021-2022 academic year.
The Astronaut Scholarship is among the most significant merit-based monetary scholarships awarded to undergraduate STEM juniors and seniors who intend to pursue research or advance their field upon completion of their final degree.
Astronaut Scholars are among the best and brightest minds in science, technology, engineering and math who show initiative, creativity and excellence in their chosen field, according to the ASF.
She is completing a bioinformatics and geology double minor this year and said, "Taking the bioinformatics minor was one of my best decisions."
She has been conducting undergraduate research with her mentor Luis Actis, chair and professor of microbiology, since her first semester at Miami.
Originally a pre-medical studies co-major, Kirby was attracted by the medical implications of Actis’ research on the bacterium Acinetobacter baumannii. The antibiotic-resistant bacterium can persist in medical environments and cause serious infections in humans.
Luis Actis and Hope Kirby
The Actis lab group researches how light can mediate the function of the bacterium. At certain temperatures, light can regulate the function of certain genes in A. baumannii.
“Understanding the main systems in the bacteria that are light-dependent could be key in understanding how the pathogen works," she said. This work is primarily done through genetic work with molecular cloning and biochemical assays.
"Hope stands out as one of the best among the more than 50 undergraduates I have supervised," Actis said. "She has an amazing capacity to listen, learn and respond by understanding methods, interpreting data, and relating them to published observations."
Kirby is a supplemental instructor and TA for several courses, which has "opened my eyes to love teaching," she said. She is also a small-group leader at the Oxford Bible Fellowship, where she works with middle-school students.
She is the co-president and co-founder of Miami’s Microbiology Club. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the opportunities for in-person, in-lab undergraduate research experiences this past, the club coordinated a virtual research project for members to practice skills in science writing for a general audience.
Astronaut Scholars must be nominated by a faculty member, be entering their junior or senior at one of the 44 participating schools the foundation supports, and demonstrate excellence in research and academics.