The Road to Research: Rutgers–Camden Student Combines Two Passions for Multidisciplinary Research Experience

By Ed Moorhouse

The great baseball player Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” For Ashley Lewis, the saying couldn’t be more fitting.

Instead of deciding between two academic paths — biology and philosophy — the Rutgers University–Camden junior from Gibbsboro chose both, and is thriving in an interdisciplinary research experience that combines the two areas of study.

Ashley Lewis is taking advantage of research opportunities in biology and philosophy.

Ashley Lewis is taking advantage of research opportunities in biology and philosophy.

“I came to Rutgers–Camden with a general idea that I wanted to do research, but it wasn’t until I began to understand philosophy that I realized how applicable a lot of it is to the medical field and how the two areas are connected,” says Lewis, who is majoring in both biology and philosophy. “The more you learn about one, it calls back to the other. I wanted to find a career path that integrated the two fields.”

Lewis, an Eastern Regional High School graduate and a member of Rutgers–Camden’s Honors College, is most interested in studying the various components of consciousness, how the brain’s intricate networks control and regulate consciousness and emotion, and the role it all plays in understanding mental health.

Last summer, Lewis was accepted into the highly selective Amgen Scholars program, which provides undergraduate students across the country with an opportunity to participate in cutting-edge research at one of 10 host institutions. Lewis worked in a psychiatric lab on a neuroimaging research project at Washington University in St. Louis, and also traveled to UCLA to participate in a conference with other Amgen Scholars.

“It 100 percent confirmed what I want to do,” Lewis says. “I want to perform mental-health research and it was nice to have that opportunity as a student. I also had a chance to meet people from other parts of the country to see what kind of research they’re doing.”

Motivated to contribute to as much research as possible, Lewis is constantly seeking out even more opportunities. At Rutgers–Camden, she is working on an innovative project that will help researchers understand how cellulose interacts with other plant-based components to create biodegradable or renewable materials, which can be used in medical technology. For example, using a 3-D bioprinter, she is creating the scaffolding that serves as the foundation on which organs can grow in the body.

She presented the research last year at Rutgers University–New Brunswick as a New Jersey Space Grant Consortium fellow, and is writing a paper about the research with David Salas-de la Cruz, an assistant professor of chemistry at Rutgers–Camden, with the goal of getting it published later this year.

Additionally, Lewis is working with Barry Komisaruk, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor at Rutgers–Newark, on a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) project that measures brain activity and cognition during sexual arousal.

“At Rutgers–Camden, I found an ability to explore all of the things I want to do because I have a lot of different interests,” Lewis says. “I can try out all of my interests without feeling like it’s a burden. This campus is very open to being interdisciplinary and to allowing its students to learn as much as possible.”

Surrounded by so much opportunity, Lewis isn’t shy about following as many paths as possible to see where they lead. Ultimately, she wants to attend graduate school and pursue a dual doctoral degree in medicine and cognitive neuroscience.

“I like to challenge myself and hope that I can encourage other students to do the same,” Lewis says. “Education is a holistic process and I try to take advantage of that here.”

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