Cole Dwyer.


University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, AR

Cole was born in a small town in rural Arkansas, where he was surrounded by nature and fell in love with biology early on. His dad is a contractor but always made time to take his son on boating trips, and his mom was an elementary school teacher who supported Cole’s growing interests in any way she could. He grew up engrossed in book series such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and Weird But True!, infatuated with the bizarreness of our reality.

Later in life, Cole required intensive surgery to fix a painful knee condition, and his hometown lacked the medical system needed to perform it. His journey from moving to a bigger city, to undergoing multiple procedures, and the long road of recovery that followed was a daunting experience for a preteen, but narrowed his passion down to the medical sciences that guided him through it all. As a result, Cole is planning to apply to medical school in the near future.

Cole became a learning assistant for biology in an effort to increase the peer-to-peer connections in STEM and become an expert in his discipline. He loved every part of the job, but felt disheartened and shocked by how boring many students felt it was. He felt fortunate that he was raised with the right attitude and educational resources regarding it, but could easily see how students grow up to hate it with the way it’s taught. His pedagogy professor shared RIT’s research opportunity with his class, and Cole, with his family background in education and desire to make biology fun for all, felt like it was a perfect fit.

Cole is continuing a project started by one of last year’s cohort, Lydie, who created the Protein Landscape as a tool to categorize images of proteins by their scale and abstraction. Cole has refined the framework from a 4x2 to a 4x3 chart, and he is now analyzing visuals of proteins according to their cellular function. He seeks to determine whether a protein’s function impacts the level of interaction or detail it is depicted with, because this analysis could unveil possible gaps between figures shown in undergraduate textbooks and those in the primary literature. He also believes the protein landscape can be used as an innovative tool in the classroom, by assessing students on whether they can recognize the same protein in different scales and/or levels of abstraction.

This may be Cole’s first REU, but it left a superb first impression and blew any expectations he had out of the water. He loves the encouragement and communication provided by both the mentors and his fellow cohort members, making this research group feel like a welcoming community that will be impossible to forget. He also loves the campus of RIT and exploring Rochester in his free time, which he finds both beautiful and enriching with an endless amount of things to do.