Leadership Profile

What's Happening at Cedar Crest College

For One Soon-to-Be Graduate, the Deadlier the Disease, the More Interesting the Research

Shannon RoncaMost people would do anything in their power to get as far away from deadly organisms as possible. Suffice it to say, then, that Cedar Crest College senior Shannon Ronca is different. Much like the meteorologist who can’t help but chase a twister, Ronca is drawn to studying the deadliest diseases our world has to offer.
“It’s fascinating that the things that I can’t see can kill me almost instantly,” said Ronca, a genetic engineering major who minors in global diseases. “When you think of the way we travel, it’s not hard to imagine that these diseases can spread rapidly.”

At Cedar Crest, the Royersford, Pa., native does research in the global diseases lab with Professor of Biological Sciences Alan Hale, Ph.D., and assists Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Amy Reese, Ph.D., with various lab courses. “Unfortunately” for the sake of her curiosity, Ronca only gets to work with mildly dangerous organisms at Cedar Crest.

That will change soon, however, as Ronca graduates this month and moves on to graduate school at the University of Texas Medical Branch. In June, she will begin with regular lab rotations. Her goal is to work her way up the ladder to the BSL4 laboratory, the only one in the nation that is open to students. The lab studies the most dangerous diseases known to man including the bacteria that causes Black Death.

“I’ve liked (scientific research) every since high school. It’s really cool when research works,” she said. “You have to do all types of different things to find the answer and sometimes it takes years but when you do, it feels like you’re a little kid on Christmas.”

The global studies minor at Cedar Crest requires an international study component, which Ronca completed with a service-learning trip to Egyankwa in the African country of Ghana over winter break. There, she worked with a team of student volunteers to install a rainwater collection and purification system. Without it, Ronca said townspeople were essentially drinking water from large, polluted ponds.
““We went door to door with interpreters and people were telling us they would get sick all the time and they didn’t know why. Coming from the U.S. where everything is so well developed, you just turn the spigot on and you never question whether the water is clean,” said Ronca. “It was probably the best experience I have ever had.”

Now, the student ambassador and member of the Genetic Engineering Club and Beta Beta Beta biology honor society is gearing up for a few more years of study on the road to a Ph.D. in experimental pathology. She said she’s quite ready for the adventure.

“I did an internship last year at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and I already knew how to use the equipment and how to do a lot of the testing required,” she said. “I’m really excited about graduating. I loved my time here and I think I‘m very well prepared to start something new.”