Prior to becoming a USTARS (Undergraduate Sociology Teaching and Research Student), senior biochemistry major and sociology and psychology minor Shelby Koenig was already involved with research through the university's UCARE (Undergraduate Creative Activities & Research) program in the 2013-14 academic year. In UCARE, Shelby assisted Nebraska sociology chair and professor Dr. Julia McQuillan interview middle school students about their interests in science and their science identity: whether or not students consider themselves to be “science people.” During her UCARE experience, McQuillan recommended Shelby become a USTARS. As the Department Chair, McQuillan was able to write to the vice chair to secure Shelby as her USTARS assistant for the 2014-15 academic year. In her ongoing work with McQuillan as a USTARS, Shelby’s work focuses on fertility issues. Shelby’s part of the research involves searching through online databases for articles related to issues of fertility and infertility. After finding articles related to fertility issues, Shelby then coded the articles according to the additional topics they explored.Shelby’s experience as a USTARS has also provided her with skills she may not have gained otherwise.“Because I’m not a sociology major, I’ve never taken an in-depth methodology course,” Shelby said. Since double-majoring in both biochemistry and sociology would compromise her plans to graduate in four years, Shelby was able to participate in USTARS as a sociology minor. “I did take Sociology 310a&b (doing sociology), and I learned about survey development and basic statistical analysis. But the USTARS program allowed to practice qualitative methodology I might have never learned otherwise.”Shelby also says her USTARS experience helped her prepare her honors thesis in biochemistry. In her thesis, Shelby analyzes how state abortion laws impact how prenatal genetic counselors interact with their patients. Shelby’s experience looking through and coding research articles as a USTARS helped prepare her for the research demands of her thesis.“Being a USTARS and working with Dr. McQuillan has provided me with many opportunities,” Shelby said. Shelby’s work with Dr. McQuillan over the past two years has allowed her to help local middle school science clubs such as Microbe Maniacs, as well as attend the National Science and Engineering Festival in spring 2014. Shelby also attended the annual American Sociological Association meeting in August 2014.
Shelby graduated from Nebraska with a minor in sociology and a major in biochemistry. She did her senior thesis with a sociology professor. In March of 2017, she graduated from Northwestern University's Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling. Her thesis project from the program, 'Exploring Prenatal Genetic Counselors' Perceptions of Abortion Laws in Restrictive States', was recently published in the Journal of Genetic Counseling. She was excited to work on the topic in graduate school because it was a continuation of her undergraduate honors thesis at the university. With the help of the sociology department adviser, she did a content analysis of state abortion laws with the potential impact on prenatal genetic counselors in mind.
She now works as a prenatal genetic counselor in Chicago. The skills that she learned in the biochemistry and sociology programs at Nebraska provided good preparation for her job as a genetic counselor, which relies heavily on both genetic knowledge and psychosocial skills as she interacts with patients.
Story by Lane Chasek