SRU senior changed major to help others and herself

george lengyel and gabrielle gette perform research tasks

George Lengyel, assistant professor of chemistry, works with Gabrielle Gette, a senior from Erie, as the duo attempts to artificially synthesize peptides for use in extending the shelf life of prescription drugs.

July 19, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Switching majors smack dab in the middle of a college career can be a daunting decision for any student. The decision-making process is often fraught with sweaty palms, sleepless nights and perhaps more than one list of the pros and cons.

But for Gabrielle Gette, a Slippery Rock University senior from Erie, making that change was a "no brainer" as it allowed her to not only follow her passion, but her family's footsteps.

gabrielle gette

   GETTE

Gette, a lifelong lover of mathematics and science, first enrolled at SRU as an accounting major, settling in for a future filled with actuaries and write offs. It didn't take long before she realized that a sedentary cubicle career had never been her childhood dream.

As a second-semester freshman, Gette was already ripe for change.

Scrambling to smoke out a Plan B, she registered for a series of Liberal Arts courses, including a general biology class. As she attended the daily lectures and met with her biology tutor, Kayla Sommers, a 2015 SRU graduate, something began to click.

"I remembered going to my dad's dentistry practice as a kid and thinking, 'This is the life,'" said Gette. "As I grew older, I strayed from that, but ultimately, I realized I wanted to return to a place where I could better help people."

With a little persuasion and encouragement from Sommers, Gette found a renewed purpose as a biology major by the onset of her sophomore year. By the start of her junior year, Gette was pursuing two separate paths of scientific study in the forms of biochemistry and botany.

Last January, Gette commenced a faculty-student research project with George Lengyel, assistant professor of chemistry. The duo is attempting to artificially synthesize peptides for use in extending the shelf life of prescription drugs, making for smaller, more efficient dosages. Peptides, a compound of amino acids usually recognized as small proteins, often play a key role in influencing the body's reaction to diet and exercise.

Courtesy of a faculty/student research grant that she received, Gette will be performing 160 hours of research this summer and will present her findings at the 252nd American Chemical Society National Meeting & Exposition in Philadelphia, Aug. 21-25. The event draws more than 12,000 attendees with nearly 1,000 exhibitors and provides the most recent and innovative research in the field of chemistry.

"I had no idea what I was getting into when I started all of this," said Gette, "but I'm doing exactly what I love, and I know that I won't be just sitting behind a desk my whole life."

Gette's passion for action has also led her into a second research study in botany, collecting lichen samples from various state parks and gaming areas in an attempt to identify endangered forms of the composite organism. Lichens are slow-growing plants that typically form a low crust like, leaf like, or branching growth on rocks, walls, and trees.

Paired with two other students under the direction of David Krayesky, associate professor of biology, the trio of undergraduates have been covering Butler, Mercer and Lawrence counties to create a checklist of area lichens with an eye on turning their results into the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, an advisory board to the state's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Gette views the endeavor as an important preventative environmental measure and as a method of identifying and preserving any endangered species.

"Our work is the first report that has been done in over 70 years," said Gette. "The records are now so archaic and historical, that the results will be enlightening for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

In her "spare time," Gette can also be found on the sidelines of various SRU athletic events in her role as a Rock cheerleader; the vice president of the Biology Club and a member of the decorations committee for the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival. In addition, Gette also serves her fellow undergraduates as a biology and chemistry tutor.

The jam-packed schedule never seems to slow down Gette, who plans on taking the dental admissions test in August so that she can become a dentist like her father, grandfather and three of her aunts.

"I always do this to myself," said Gette with a laugh. "I want to become a part of everything, so I try to do it all. The funny thing is, I still manage to find time for myself. Being at SRU is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

"That's why I want to experience as much as I can."

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu