Ashley Maynard, center, with CSU Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Zed Mason, left, and incoming CSU Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Ganesh Raman.
When Cal State East Bay graduate student Ashley Maynard gives a presentation, she commands the room. She breaks down complex topics like transcriptome sequencing into easily digestible pieces to keep her audience engaged and interested.
It’s one of the many reason judges at the annual system-wide California State University student research competition earlier this year awarded Maynard and her presentation about the Olympia oyster second place.
“It’s about making people understand and care about your problem so they’re invested from the beginning,” Maynard said about her tips for a successful presentation.
Maynard, who will graduate on June 12 with a master’s degree in biology, has taught classes at CSUEB as a graduate student since 2014, and credits the university's small but rigorous research program for her recent success.
“This school isn’t known for its research, but it’s the best hidden secret,” Maynard said. “You have more time with your advisor, more opportunity for them to guide you — it’s like an incubation program.”
Maynard began studying the Olympia oyster last year because of its restorative properties. According to her research, the Olympia oyster can serve as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of estuaries that have been destroyed by fresh water flooding.
Now, she wants to use the same techniques to explore why some humans are more resistant to certain drugs or diseases.
“The truth is, an oyster is not too far from what a human is,” Maynard said, pointing out that scientists use the same genetic sequencing techniques she used to study the oysters to study human DNA.
The CSUEB Center for Student Research offers students like Maynard stipends every quarter for projects, and also covers the costs associated with lab supplies and travel to national conferences.
Maynard said most students like herself find they are able to work on projects either one-on-one with mentors, or in small groups. They learn valuable skills that can translate into real-world experience and in some cases, students may be able to publish their work before they even graduate.
“I think the CSUs in general are really interested in research, [it helps] improve student performance, graduation [rates], retention and skills development,” Professor of Geology Jefferey Seitz said. “What drives student research here at CSUEB is our faculty, in addition to the center providing financial support.”
In July, Maynard will begin working as a junior specialist studying cancer biology at University of California, San Francisco’s Trever Bivona Laboratory. The position is a long-time dream of hers, and something she hopes is a catalyst toward a career in human disease research.
“Any kind of genetic disease is tragic … if you can try to give someone that fighting chance, it’s worth it,” Maynard said.