Dr. Sheela Vemu, Associate Professor of Biology

Dr. Sheela Vemu, Associate Professor of Biology, was recently honored as the state’s 2024 Outstanding Full-Time Faculty Member by the Illinois Community College Trustees Association (ICCTA). This award recognizes faculty who are the heart and soul of Illinois' educational institutions.

"My philosophy is to equip students with critical thinking skills to address global challenges, engage in democratic processes, and contribute meaningfully to informed decision-making,” said Dr. Vemu. “I encourage them to embrace science as a practice and empower themselves to do so."

Dr. Vemu’s encouragement and mentorship have opened a variety of opportunities for Waubonsee’s STEM students to learn, explore and succeed, especially in recent months.

 Danielle Rodriguez, a kinesiology major from Aurora, was the first community college student to complete an internship with the Chicago Council of Science and Technology (C2ST), where she recently worked for four weeks as a science communication writer. During that time, she published an article titled "The Dynamics of DNA: How Scientists are Translating Genes into Symphonies," available on the C2ST website at c2st.org.

"It was great to get some experience slightly outside of my major and work with people with a lot of different focuses," Rodriguez said. "It was great networking with people whom I can continue to reach out to for future intern/job/volunteer opportunities."

Fellow Waubonsee student Gabrielle "Gaby" Jackson, also of Aurora, recently started her summer STEM experience, as a participant in the National Science Foundation-funded Microbial Interactions Create Research Opportunities for Community College Students (MICRO-CCS) program at Parkland College and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

This program immerses students in research; Gaby and other participants will conduct research, write reports, and maintain lab notebooks, culminating in poster presentations at a summer symposium and back at Waubonsee in the fall.

Poster presentations around a variety of STEM topics garnered awards for several Waubonsee students at this spring's Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference STEM Poster Competition. Carlos "Charlie" Vazquez Acosta, of Aurora, won first place in the Engineering, Math, and Computer Science Division for his research on A Related-Rates Problem with an Unexpected Twist, mentored by Dr. Steven Kifowit, Assistant Professor of Mathematics. Ronja Schmitz-Wienke, of Montgomery, won third place in the Environmental and Earth Science Division for her work on Glacial Ablation in the National Parks and its Relation to Climate Change, mentored by David Voorhees, Professor of Earth Science and Geology. Peace Koudjiwan, of Batavia; Eh Hser, of Aurora; and Matthew Katele, of Aurora, tied for third in the Biology Division for their work Peptide in the Bun: Predicting Neoantigens in Cancer, mentored by Dr. Vemu.

Recent Waubonsee graduate Emily Beger, a first-generation Latina and the first in her family from Chihuahua, Mexico to pursue a STEM field, never imagined she would work in a laboratory while in college. Her journey from a West Aurora High School graduate to a participant in the competitive Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students (PRECS) program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is a testament to education's transformative power. This experience has opened doors to opportunities Beger once thought impossible, instilling a hope that she will one day become a scientist.

Joanna Sanchez, a recent graduate of Waubonsee from Aurora, who transferred to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was selected as one of ten students from community colleges nationwide to participate in an internship program at the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). NIIMBL is a public-private consortium with the goal of advancing innovation in biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

Dr. Vemu's dedication to student success has been recognized with several accolades over the past few months. Earlier this year, Dr. Vemu was one of 36 faculty members chosen for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) 2024 Dale P. Parnell Faculty Distinction Recognition.

Last year, Dr. Vemu received the 2023 Two-Year College Biology Teaching Award from the National Biology Teachers (NABT). This, along with her recognition as Waubonsee's 2023 Outstanding Faculty Member underscores the profound impact she has had on the academic community. Dr. Vemu has been a full-time biology faculty member at Waubonsee since 2013.

Above: Dr. Sheela Vemu, Associate Professor of Biology at Waubonsee Community College, instructs her students in a biology lab. Her encouragement and mentorship have opened a variety of opportunities for Waubonsee’s STEM students to learn, explore, and succeed, especially in recent months.


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