Make The Connection

July 8, 2024 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan student Jack Gensler '26 presents a research poster at the American Society for Microbiology's Microbe 2024 national conference. He previously was selected to present the research at the Ohio Branch of the American Society for Microbiology's 2024 annual meeting. (Photos courtesy of Jack Gensler '26)

Opportunity Magnified

Ohio Wesleyan Student Presents Research at Microbe 2024 National Conference

Name: Jack Gensler '26
Hometown: Toledo, Ohio
High School: Maumee Valley Country Day School
Majors: Microbiology (B.S.) and Biochemistry (B.A.)

OWU Connection Experience: Poster presentation at the American Society for Microbiology's Microbe 2024 national conference

Gensler earned an OWU Connection Theory-to-Practice Grant to help support his attendance at Microbe 2024, held from June 13-17 in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the conference attracted more than 5,000 attendees.

Poster Perfect

During the ASM conference, Gensler presented a poster about his research, "Pitch Perfect: Enzymatic Activity & Detection of Nitrifying Microorganisms in Purple Pitcher Plants on Beaver Island, Michigan." Gensler previously was recognized for this work when he earned a best undergraduate student poster award in April at the Ohio Branch of the American Society for Microbiology's 2024 annual meeting. (He tied for the honor with fellow Bishop Natalia Molotievskiy '25).

Gensler completed the "Pitch Perfect" research at Central Michigan University in collaboration with Peter Kourtev, Ph.D., CMU professor of Biology. Gensler's Research for Undergraduates Experience (REU) was supported by the Institute for Great Lakes Research.

Ongoing Research

"I am still continuing to work on my research," Gensler said. "During my REU on the island, I was able to detect the nitrogen cycling microbes we were looking for, and recently I was able to utilize my annual Schimmel Family Honors Fellowship research grant to allow me to sequence my DNA samples in order to determine what microbes were detected. Currently, we are analyzing that sequence data and plan to publish a report."

The ASM Conference

"The thing I love about microbiology is the amount of intersecting disciplines. That's why one of my favorite parts of the ASM conference was meeting people from all over the country and world and getting to learn about their unique interests and expertise. I attended sessions that included the links between colon cancer and the gut microbiome, how algae can be utilized to produce biofuels, and how artificial intelligence is being used in research.

"I also loved presenting my research poster. It is always fun meeting new people with various backgrounds and being able to share your little niche, especially when it concerns carnivorous plants on an island in the Midwest – something you don't hear often."

Academic Connections…

"Academically, I have been given an amazing foundation that I am able to apply to the world around me. For the vast majority of presentations I attended during the conference, I was able to learn new applications of topics that were previously covered in lecture. And for topics that I was totally unfamiliar with, OWU has given me the confidence to approach my curiosity with an open mind to expand my knowledge. During the keynote speech on the connection between gut microbes and colon cancer, the speaker presented a complex mechanism of a chemical reaction and I thought to myself, 'Oh my gosh! We did something just like this in organic chemistry!'"

Jack Gensler '26 (right) meets with Ohio Wesleyan graduate Max Schroeder '09 at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, where Schroeder, Ph.D., works as a microbiologist and laboratory safety officer.

…And Alumni Connections

During Gensler's June trip, he also met with Ohio Wesleyan graduate Max Schroeder '09 and toured the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control facility where Schroeder, Ph.D., works as a microbiologist and laboratory safety officer.

"One of the highlights from my visit was when Dr. Schroeder took me to the top floor of the building where I got to see a beautiful view of the Atlanta skyline and the adjacent mountains. There, I also got to see Emory University, which was right across the street from the facilities. Dr. Schroeder and his wife (Morgan Waddles Schroeder '10) both went to Emory for graduate school after OWU. There he explained what the grad school application process was like for him and how OWU had prepared him after graduation. His great advice and insights made me excited for graduate school!

"Overall, the big takeaway for me was learning about all of the vast and unique career opportunities available at the CDC from labs that focus specifically just on protein/antibody synthesis and DNA sequencing and training visiting public health officials, etc. That first-hand experience was extremely beneficial and was even more helpful alongside Dr. Schroeder's insights. …

"These experiences matter because they helped me explore all sorts of different career paths and topics within my field. Until visiting the CDC, I had no clue about the many different career paths at the organization as well as in government. We spend so much time and effort in the classroom learning theory and in the lab practicing technique, and it becomes very rewarding and empowering when we are able to utilize it in the real world."

This is why I love going to a liberal arts college. The ability to critically think about issues and topics across disciplines and connect them back together has given me a unique perspective to better understand the complex world around me.

Jack Gensler '26

What's Next?

"I am doing research this summer as a lab assistant at the University of Toledo, also supported by my Schimmel Family Honors Fellowship research grant. The lab I am working in is an immunology and biochemistry lab focused on testing a vaccine against the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is common in hospital-acquired infections.

"When I was first accepted earlier this spring, I was sent the most recent paper the lab published. The basic premise of the vaccine is to take a modified version of a membrane protein from the bacteria and have it cause an immune response from the host, whose antibodies protect against future infections. There were so many topics in the paper I was able to understand because of classes I have taken at OWU. Thanks to Intro to Microbiology, I knew exactly what membrane protein the vaccine was replicating, and thanks to Organic Chemistry I understood the complete mechanisms of how they were able to synthesize the protein of interest.

"It has been fascinating connecting my experience at UT testing a novel vaccine to the learning about how the CDC tackles similar challenges. I also got to connect the research I am doing this summer at ASM as well. I got to learn more about P. aeruginosa from a clinical angle and understand more about the formation of virulent biofilms. I also had a great discussion with a researcher I ran into from a previous Ohio Branch of the American Society for Microbiology meeting who studies antibiotic resistance and community signaling in P. aeruginosa.

"This is why I love going to a liberal arts college. The ability to critically think about issues and topics across disciplines and connect them back together has given me a unique perspective to better understand the complex world around me. This, in turn, has opened many doors for me as I am able to see the big picture and from being able to thrive in ever-changing environments. Not only has the liberal arts experience given me academic tools to succeed, but OWU specifically has given me the means to utilize my education to help me accomplish my professional goals and to impact the world around me."

My OWU Mentor

"Dr. Laura Tuhela-Reuning has been an incredible mentor. She always informs me of unique opportunities and always encourages me to take the next steps in my education. ... Not only did Dr. Tuhela-Reuning help me get to ASM in Atlanta, but also she was the one who put me in contact with Dr. Schroeder, one of her former students. Dr. Tuhela-Reuning's enthusiasm for microbiology is contagious, and her dedication toward her student's learning in and out of the classroom is unwavering."

My Campus Involvements

"Outside the classroom, I am an active member of the Service Engagement and Leadership (SEAL) small living unit, and this fall I will begin serving as moderator. I am also the president of the Ohio Wesleyan University Student Chapter of the American Society for Microbiology. This fall I am planning to revitalize the organization, which in previous years hasn't been active. This past April at the Ohio Branch of the American Society for Microbiology annual meeting, I met Dr. Steve Sayson of the University of Cincinnati who serves as ASM Young Ambassador to Ohio. Part of his role is to help student chapters connect with resources from the national society. I have been in contact with Dr. Sayson since and met him while in Atlanta to discuss ideas for student chapter events."

Why I Chose Ohio Wesleyan?

"I chose Ohio Wesleyan because of their focus on students from small class sizes, being able to know my professors, and dedication to student success outside of the classroom."

My Plans After Graduation

"After OWU I plan on going to graduate school to eventually earn a Ph.D. Just after my first year at OWU, I was able to research microbes in carnivorous pitcher plants on an island in the middle of Lake Michigan and then I was awarded funding to present that research in front of a global audience the following summer. Also through OWU grant funding, this summer I am in a lab researching a vaccine against a deadly bacteria. I have been able to achieve such great success in just two years all because OWU has prepared me for real-world and professional success."