Caroline Brown, a senior chemistry student at the University of North Georgia in Dahlonega, found herself in disbelief when she opened up her acceptance letter to Yale University.
“I was like, ‘This is crazy,’” Brown said. “This doesn’t happen to someone from a tiny school in Georgia.”
After graduating this year with a bachelor's degree in chemistry, she will start a new journey earning a doctorate at Yale. She intends to conduct research involving Alzheimer’s disease, which she started to pursue through the Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Minnesota in 2018.
Brown said the 10-week program in Minnesota first sparked her interest in Alzheimer’s disease.
She teamed up with a professor to find connections between certain brain cells and Alzheimer’s disease.
“At the molecular level Alzheimer’s is so interesting because there’s so much we know about it, but there’s so much that we still don’t know,” Brown said. “It turned out to be the perfect project.”
She focused on protein prenylation, which she said “is the modification made to specific proteins in cells.”
“What people have found is that in brain cells, an increase of prenylation actually increases your chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease,” Brown said. “There’s just a correlation, but no one knows what’s happening at the molecular level.”
Her project specifically examined what proteins are being prenylated in three different types of brain cells. The cells were extracted from mice.
Before leaving the program at the University of Minnesota, Brown said her research group was able to successfully profile two of the three brain cell types, finding an overlap of around 30 prenylated proteins.
At Yale, Brown aims to take a different route with her Alzeimer’s disease research and might expand to different diseases.
“There are so many diseases we don’t understand,” Brown said. “In order to be able to treat something, you have to know the cause of it. I feel like a lot of our medicine is just shot-gunning at a whole lot of things we think are causing the disease.”
Brown will receive a stipend from Yale to conduct her research at the university in addition to the $134,000 she won through her acceptance into the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program. She was the first student to win this award while enrolled at the University of North Georgia.
Brown also earned a Goldwater Honorable Mention in April 2018, which is presented to college students in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics in the U.S.
Ultimately, Brown said her long-term goal entails becoming an advocate for stronger science education in rural communities. She grew up in Carrollton, a rural town close to the Alabama-Georgia border.
As the president of her university’s Honors Program, she has already started on her journey to become a role model for those in the STEM field.
“I see myself being a mentor and an advocate because I’ve seen the people in my life that have done that for me,” Brown said. “I want to give back to these communities that have done so much for me.”
Two of the University of North Georgia mentors who have impacted her the most include Anastasia Lin, an associate professor of English, and Yu Wang, an assistant professor of chemistry.
Brown said they have acted as strong female role models who bolstered her as a scientist.
Wang describes Brown as “an exceedingly talented and dedicated student who has superb academic credentials, an inquisitive mind and focused objectives.”
She said Brown lies in the top tier of the STEM-major students at the University of North Georgia with a 4.0 GPA and record of research and publications.
“Caroline will be the kind of female professor that encourages excitement in other female students,” Wang said. “I have no doubt that Caroline will contribute great things to the field of biochemistry.”
If Brown could give any advice to those in rural communities wanting to pursue a STEM field degree, she would tell them to “not be afraid to have big dreams.”
“I think a lot of times we look at it as something that’s scary and undoable, but you can do it if you work hard and you’re determined enough,” she said.