Junior Kaydren Orcutt Selected for Prestigious Amgen Scholars Summer Research Program


MACON – Mercer junior Kaydren Orcutt, who was named the University's fourth-ever Goldwater Scholarship recipient last spring, was recently selected as an Amgen Scholar and will spend 10 weeks this summer conducting research at the University of California, Berkeley.

Orcutt, a chemistry and Spanish double-major from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, will study at UC Berkeley from May 30-Aug. 5, where she will be working in a faculty member's laboratory under the direct mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

In addition to research, she will participate in lab meetings, scientific and professional development seminars and workshops, and social activities. She will also write a paper and present a scientific poster at the National Amgen Scholars Program Symposium at UCLA in July.

Orcutt, a 2013 Stamps Scholar and participant in the University Honors Program, conducts research in the lab of Dr. Kathryn Kloepper, associate professor of chemistry and director of the Great Books Program. Orcutt is one of several undergraduate researchers utilizing analytical chemistry to investigate better ways to clean up oil spills. Specifically, this research pertains to biosurfactants, which are naturally produced, soap-like molecules that enable water and oils to mix. This work is performed in collaboration with Dr. Garland Crawford, assistant professor of chemistry.

“This is a great opportunity not only to work at a fantastic university for the summer but also to explore chemistry as an industry,” said Orcutt. “This opportunity is one of many I've received while at Mercer that were only possible through the continued mentorship of my professors, like Dr. Kloepper and Dr. Crawford, and fellow students, like Kelsy Cotto, a 2015 Amgen Scholar.”

Orcutt's previous experimental contributions have helped identify a bacterial strain that has high biosurfactant production and efficacy. She continues to probe this harmless bacteria's ability to function in diverse environmental conditions, which is a requirement for effective, widespread cleanup of oil spills. She also plans to separate and identify the individual biosurfactant compounds produced by the bacteria.

In addition to her undergraduate research at Mercer, Orcutt has spent time working alongside scientists in one of the laboratories of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Kaydren is an exemplary undergraduate research student. She is proactive in and out of the research laboratory,” said Dr. Kloepper. “Her time at UC Berkeley this summer will enable her to expand on her research experiences, and I am excited for her for this opportunity.”

Orcutt plans to obtain a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and then conduct bioanalytical research and teach at the university level. She was a recipient of the 2014 Best Analytical Poster Award at the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), as well as University awards for Outstanding General Chemistry Student 2013-2014 and Outstanding General Physics Student 2014-2015 and Outstanding Analytical Chemistry Student 2015-2016. She has also presented her research at the Pittsburgh Conference on Analytical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy, Herty Medalist Undergraduate Research Symposium at Morehouse College and Breakthroughs in Engagement, Arts and Research (BEAR) Day at Mercer.

Amgen Scholars is an international program made possible through a 12-year, $50 million commitment from the Amgen Foundation with direction and technical assistance provided by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge. Each year, the program provides hundreds of selected undergraduate students with the opportunity to engage in hands-on research experiences at 10 of the nation's premier educational institutions.

In addition to their summer research experiences, Amgen Scholars participate in the national symposium at UCLA that allows them to hear firsthand from leading scientists working in industry and academia, as well as have the opportunity to share their research projects with their peers.

The program is designed to prepare students to apply to top-tier graduate and professional schools and foster an understanding of the excitement and trajectory for a career in creating new knowledge. In addition to the U.S., Amgen Scholars are selected in Europe and Japan.

Amgen is a multinational biopharmaceutical company committed to unlocking the potential of biology for patients suffering from serious illnesses by discovering, developing, manufacturing and delivering innovative human therapeutics. For more information, visit www.amgen.com.

Kyle is senior director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he serves as editor of the Mercerian alumni magazine and News@Mercer e-newsletters, and he coordinates hometown and university news releases.