Make The Connection

March 21, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student and future veterinarian Ireland Nowak '24 works in the laboratory to complete independent research tied to the gut health of dogs. (Photo courtesy of Ireland Nowak '24)

Gut Instincts

Ohio Wesleyan Student Researches Health of French Bulldogs in Home, Mill Environments

Name: Ireland Nowak '24
Hometown: Thousand Oaks, California
High School: Thousand Oaks High School
Majors: Pre-Professional Zoology, Pre-Medicine, and Biochemistry
Minors: Spanish and Chemistry
OWU Connection Experience: Conducting an independent research project throughout the academic year comparing the gut microbiome of purebred French bulldogs from home-dwelling and mill-bred environments

To support her work, Nowak earned two types of competitive OWU Connection grants – a Theory-to-Practice Grant and a Small Grant Program award. She also was named a Baran Fellow, which included a financial award to support her work. The fellows program is intended to help students become stronger candidates for graduate school admission.

My Research

"I am researching the differences in the gut microbiome bacteria present in mill-bred canines and home-environment canines. We are looking at the different bacteria present in the gut in each environment type to see if the environment a dog occupies impacts their gut bacteria composition." (The project involves using fecal samples from healthy dogs to collect the data.)

"This research is important because canine microbiome research is a relatively new topic where breed-specific studies have not yet been carried out.

"We are hoping this research provides data for veterinarians to use in the future for treating canines who may have gastrointestinal issues due to dysbiosis in the gut. Dysbiosis is the disruption of the healthy bacteria present, which can lead to a decrease in metabolism functions and overall function and health of the gut, leading to disease or other complications if not resolved."

Favorite Project Moments

"While it was fun to do the hands-on research and run everything on my own in the lab, I really enjoyed looking through the data analysis I got back from Diversigen. (The Minnesota company provides microbiome analysis using molecular techniques and informatics.)

"I did lab work to get each sample down to the genomic level and then shipped the samples off for analysis.

"What we got back were some pretty cool results and graphs that we were hoping to see when we first started the project! It is relieving and exciting to see all the work pay off and see real results!"

Lessons Learned

"My Medical Microbiology course did a whole unit on human microbiome and a lot of correlations can be made when looking at canines, too. It has been really fun to be sitting in class and already know about the topic in-depth. It makes me feel like my involvement and hours spent on this research project are paying off.

"I just recently got accepted into veterinary school so I have known for a while that I want to work with animals in my future career. This research has definitely helped me stand out to programs, but it has also helped me realize that I am interested in continuing research after undergrad and in veterinary school. This project can be transitioned into so many different animal models, and I am intrigued to see what else I can find out through different microbiome research."

Undergraduate research really helps you get an understanding of your goals and passions in an environment that is comfortable and feeds creativity and hard work.

Ireland Nowak '24

An Important Opportunity

"Experiences like this matter to be able to get a better understanding of your career goals and what you are interested in. This project is a part of my honors thesis in trying to graduate with honors, so I have been working on it for a couple years.

"Experiences like this at an undergraduate university give students an opportunity to think outside the box and create research with professors who are eager to work on a project with you. This research has played a vital role not only in my time here at OWU, but also getting into vet school. Undergraduate research really helps you get an understanding of your goals and passions in an environment that is comfortable and feeds creativity and hard work."

My Faculty Advisers

  • Kiley Lewin, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor of Biological Sciences: "Dr. Lewin is the project adviser, and it was originally her research project that I tagged along on. She has helped me throughout the whole process with processing samples from the vet clinic, providing feedback on my papers, and helping with data analysis.
  • Kayce Tomcho, Ph.D., assistant professor of Chemistry: "Dr. Tomcho is written on the research due to the project having biochemical implications. This project is counting as my Biochem major independent study and, as a part of fulfilling that requirement, she is on my defense team for the honors thesis."

My Campus Involvements

"I am a member of both the varsity soccer and track and field teams here. I serve on the Honors Board and am a member of the Honors Program. I am president of Pre-Vet Club and am a member of the Pre-Health Club.

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan?

"I chose to attend OWU for the small class sizes and community the campus has to offer. I also chose the school due to being able to continue my two sports, while vigorously working in the classroom.

"I knew I wanted to do research as well, and OWU has a great Biology Department to do so. OWU also had the Pre-Professional Zoology major and Zoology courses that lined up perfectly with my career goals of going into veterinary medicine. I knew I wanted to form relationships with professors and this research shows that I was able to do so and that has been a vital part of my education here."

My Plans After Graduation

"My plans after graduation are to attend veterinary school. I recently got accepted into Tufts vet program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, so I will most likely be starting there in the fall. (I am still waiting to hear from a few schools, but I love Tufts!)

"I am hoping to go into equine medicine and specialize in either surgery or internal medicine.

"OWU has helped prepare me to enter veterinary school right after undergrad through the ability to work closely alongside faculty and my coaches to reach my career goals.

"While it was difficult to have three majors and play sports throughout my four years, the faculty have been very supportive in me reaching my goals."