JANUARY 1, 2020 — She has traveled from a Bill Murray movie, through Hawaii, to epic momentum last month on the Commencement stage at UTSA. Jessica O’Berry is thankful for each step of her journey to become a biomedical researcher.
She said, “I knew I had a passion for infectious disease when I was 6 and I watched a movie called Osmosis Jones about a white blood cell and cold pill fighting a virus in Bill Murray’s body.”
With her lifelong passion in tow, O’Berry would begin her college career at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. As a junior, she transferred to UTSA to be closer to family and take advantage of all the opportunities the university has to offer in research. She decided as a senior to fully pursue a path as a researcher and for the past 18 months has worked under the direction of Janakiram Seshu, a UTSA professor of biology and faculty associate with the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases to seek a cure for Borrelia burgdorferi, the agent that causes Lyme disease.
“Currently there isn’t an effective vaccine on the market to prevent Lyme disease, so I work with the part of the lab that creates mutants of the bacteria that won't survive in nature,” she said.
She is a member of UTSA’s Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement, a federally funded program designed to increase the number of underrepresented faculty, students and investigators who are performing research in the biomedical sciences.
“Diversity is very important, especially in the STEM fields, where minorities, including black women, are underrepresented. Diversity brings new ideas together,” she said, attributing the STEM program for her success in the field. “I want everyone to feel included and I want to spread that message of inclusion.”
In October she returned to Hawaii for a significant moment as part of the RISE program to attend the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science conference, where she won a top award in microbiology for research presentation—in the same conference center where she won first place in Health Occupations Students of America for medical reading as a high school student.
O’Berry crossed the Commencement stage earlier this month and received her bachelor of science degree in biology with a concentration in integrative biology.
“I love UTSA,” she said. “This community has become a second family to me. I wouldn’t have come as far as I have without their support, especially from RISE and from the Department of Biology.”
O’Berry’s plans are to pursue her master’s degree in biology at UTSA before pursuing a PhD.
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