Kent State student to take part in neuroscience program

Emelia Sherin

A Kent State student and sprouting female scientist was accepted into a summer internship program at  The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for summer 2018.

Ya’el Courtney, a senior biology major, is making waves in the world of neuroscience research after years of struggling to find her place.

“About 800 people apply, and they only take 12,” Courtney said.

Courtney will be committing to a nine-week research internship designed for undergraduates to focus on biomedical research and genomics. Genomics focuses on the functions and evolution of genomes, which is a complete set of DNA. DNA holds all the information needed for the human body to grow, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute.

Joshua Pollock, an assistant professor of sociology and the current director of the Electrophysiological Neuroscience Laboratory of Kent, said Courtney is a great person with an excellent work ethic.

“Ya’el is a wonderful student and person,” Pollock said. “She has an amazing drive and work ethic and is always willing to go that extra mile. She comes up with innovative ways to deal with problems and is quite successful at doing such.”

Kent State does not offer a neuroscience undergraduate program, but it does as a master’s program. She has always wanted to study the science of the nervous system and has a great passion for research.

“Her passion for science, research and learning is contagious,” said Logan Verheyen, Courtney’s boyfriend. The two met at a summer research program in St. Louis following their first year of college. “As she describes her work in a lab, an experience at a neuroscience conference or specific content from an interesting class, one can’t help but share her excitement on the topic.”

She thought applying for several internships on what she was more interested in was the perfect opportunity for her to branch out and follow her dreams.

After years of feeling lost, she has happily found herself at Kent State, declining other internship offers from Harvard and MIT, as well as offers from the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis and the University of California, Berkeley.

“She acts on what she believes,” said Linda Powlison, Courtney’s grandmother. “Cause and effect that she has learned through science has carried over to social and other areas of her life.”

Escaping an abusive household at 15, Courtney lived in six different states within her adolescent years. She was faced with a dilemma at 17: Her legal guardian at the time told her she had two paths to choose from: enlisting in the Army or ending up on the street.

“Proving people wrong is a driving motivation,” Courtney said “Making a difference is very important to me.”

Instead, Courtney took a gap year to work and save money. “I was shift manager and worked 70-80 hours a week at Wendy’s,” Courtney said. “I read 300 books that year.”

She achieved her General Education Development certificate at 18, then applied for colleges. From there, she found her home at Kent State and is in love with the collegiate atmosphere.

“Ya’el’s energy is refreshing because it’s genuine,” Powlison said. “It’s an energy that … reaches out to bring (people) with her.”

She is active in research studies on campus and serves as the vice president of the academic fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi. Her passions in science, people, music and even coffee drive her to make change in the future.

“Inclusivity, diversity and expanding our base of people in science is important, and I intend to do that in the future,” Courtney said.

 Emelia Sherin is the science reporter. Contact her at [email protected].