Building a chapter through community
When she was in high school in Columbus, Ohio, Olivia Miller fell in love with science, but before that, her grand-mother’s dementia sowed the seed.
“I had a very active role as a caregiver in her life,” Miller said. “Seeing the medical aspect and learning more about how dementia worked sparked my interest in science. The further along I went in my studies, the more intrigued I became.”
Miller was reluctant to attend the same school as her mother, Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. But a visit day changed her mind. The strong sense of community made her feel like she belonged there.
“What impressed the young 18-year-old me was that our program director gave me his business card and said, ‘You contact me if you have any questions.’ It was really welcoming,” she said. “You could tell that they cared about their students deeply, which brought me to Otterbein.”
During her freshman year, Miller started to attend weekly tea social hours organized by Otterbein’s American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Student Chapter and never looked back. During her sophomore year, she led some chapter events and she became the chapter president during her junior and senior years.
As president, her biggest challenge was getting people to attend events, especially because the campus was just opening after the COVID-19 lockdown. She brainstormed with her professors and peers to develop new and more engaging events.
“We built off a three-pronged approach focusing on recreational, professional development and outreach events,” she said. “Recreational events bring students together to have fun with an educational twist.”
One recreational event was a do-it-yourself workshop on making soaps, where the attendees talked about the biochemical process of saponification. Professional development programs were the most popular, she said, with an event providing “résumé photos with white lab coats” topping the charts.
“My time as the chapter president has greatly helped me connect with my peers and develop my networking skills,” she said. “I have also built a broader sense of community with other scientists. Being able to attend the ASBMB conference this year was an amazing opportunity. It’s been very inspiring.”
At Discover BMB, the society’s meeting in Seattle, Miller was one of 20 student chapter members who were inducted into Chi Omega Lambda, the ASBMB’s honor society, and her chapter, advised by John Tansey, received the 2023 ASBMB Outstanding Chapter Award.
Miller would advise this year’s chapter president to take risks and engage with the scientific community. “We are a community,” she said. “So, take advantage of that community to help build all of us up.”
In addition to participating in the ASBMB student chapter, Miller was actively engaged in the Botanical Society of America student chapter at Otterbein. As part of the BSA club, she volunteered at the school’s greenhouse (home to a grumpy old turtle) and attended weekly events such as nature walks and plant pressing tutorials.
“It’s very interesting to engage with nonscience peers and see their perspective on classes and life in general,” she said.
Miller recently graduated with a double major — a first major in biochemistry and molecular biology with a second major in biology — and minors in chemistry and psychology. She recently joined the biochemistry graduate program at Ohio State University, and she aspires to work in the biotech industry and contribute to the advancement of therapeutics.
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