Katie Almirall ’07:
Lemons to Lemonade
Oak Island native Katie Almirall ’07 traveled more than
1,000 miles, deep into the heart of Oaxaca, Mexico, to
reach the site of her undergraduate research project.
The first thing she found out when she arrived was that it wasn’t
going to work.
Backed by an undergraduate research grant from UNC and
working under the auspices of a Mexican government program,
Almirall had planned on traveling to indigenous communities
and offering them art classes. “I had a really, really specific idea
and proposal,” she said.
But the program, she found out on arrival, had been canceled. And even defining who was indigenous and who wasn’t
turned out to be almost impossible.
Her first thought: “I’ve just traveled over 1,000 miles. What
do I do now?”
Almirall, an art major with a Spanish minor, displayed the
resilience of a seasoned researcher. In a few days, she had tailored
her project to the prevailing conditions and launched her art
classes in Oaxaca City itself. For three weeks, she taught art fundamentals to a class of 10 students, aged 13 to 23. For their final
project, the students proposed and created a giant inflatable
sculpture of a hand out of clear plastic and tape. The sculpture,
filled with messages and facts about human rights, then went on
display in the city’s central park. “It was really nice to finish with
a big bang,” she said.
Almirall now lives in New York and works for Teach For
America’s national office. Her Oaxaca experience taught her
how to navigate the nonprofit world and helped her forge lasting connections in Oaxaca, an area to which she has since
returned twice. Undergraduate research, she says, “changed
Greg Hogan ’05: An Answer
No One Else Knows
When Greg Hogan ’05 arrived in Chapel Hill, he
wanted to be a doctor. But as soon as he began prob-ing genome-wide chromatin structure with small-molecule crosslinkers and DNA microarrays, he changed his mind.
What, exactly, was that research about, again? Well, it’s complicated
— and therefore perhaps all the more impressive that the Sarasota,
Fla., native embarked on this work when he was still a freshman.
Hogan looked at how DNA is packaged in yeast, paying particular attention to chromatin — structures within cell nuclei
where the DNA helix winds itself around spool-like forms called
nucleosomes. To do so, Hogan used a technique called Formalde-hyde-Assisted Isolation of Regulatory Elements that was developed by his mentor, biology Assistant Professor Jason Lieb ’ 94.
Hogan calls the successful use of this technique the most important part of the research, in that it offers a simple and effective
route to mapping open — which is to say, accessible to regulating
molecules — chromatin in any organism.
Hogan credits his undergraduate research with changing his
career path for the better. Mentored and motivated by Lieb, Hogan
discovered a new passion. “I love research,” he says. “I love exploring
the unknown. You can come up with an answer no one else knows.”
The experience catapulted him onto a fast track to a career in
research. He graduated in three years; soon after, he published a
paper on his undergraduate findings in the journal PLoS-Genetics
— he was first author — and won a Fulbright Scholarship to do
research with a professor in Amsterdam. Now 23, Hogan just
started a doctoral program in biochemistry at Stanford; he turned
up a few semesters early, of course.
“I really think that the absolute best thing I got out of UNC
was this research,” he said. “I wouldn’t have gotten into Stanford