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‘Slow and Steady’ Is Route to Success for Rutgers Lab Tech Kathryn Kingsley


Alumna Kathryn Kingsley (front row, second from right) returned to campus this fall to assist in MCCC's National Chemistry Week activities.

Kingsley in the MCCC lab in Spring 2012 with Professor Laura Blinderman.

Kingsley's intensive research project on local wasps prepared her well for transfer to Rutgers.

West Windsor, N.J. – Kathryn Kingsley ’12 (A.S., Biology; A.S., Chemistry) delayed her route to college, but once she got started, she steadily and resolutely worked her way to success.  Today she is a lab technician at Rutgers University—New Brunswick, where she earned dual degrees in Plant Biotechnology Plant Science Research in 2015.

“I really love what I do and can't imagine doing anything else,” Kingsley said.

Attending Mercer County Community College (MCCC) as an adult student, her first order of business was getting her GED, which she followed by enrolling as a part-time Mercer student in the mid-2000s. She continued to study part-time and graduated in 2012 as a member of the MCCC Honors Program with degrees in Biology and Chemistry.

Kingsley distinguished herself at Mercer and, on graduation day, was recognized at the Honors Convocation with the Outstanding Volunteer Award in Chemistry for her work during National Chemistry Week each fall and Super Science Weekend at the New Jersey State Museum in the spring. In 2011, she was the recipient of the Dowd-Fessler Memorial Scholarship in Biology.

Kingsley says her love for science fueled her ambitions. First planning to earn her degree in Chemistry with the goal of working in the environmental field, she quickly expanded her sights to include biology.

She recalls her MCCC professors and other staff members as having had a profound impact on her life. “They helped to shape my experience and direction,” Kingsley said.

Many of those professors and their higher-level science courses are etched in Kingsley’s mind: Organic Chemistry with Professor Helen Tanzini, Microbiology with Professor Diane Hilker and Genetics with Professor Laura Blinderman.

But she also singled out Professor of English Carol Bork, whose Honors English 102 course was Kingsley’s first Honors experience. “The course required two major papers, including drafts that had to be submitted for feedback. There were some rough patches as I worked for an ‘A’ – a very high bar in that class. But I improved as an analytic thinker and writer. I also developed a mental toughness to push through those moments when I felt I had reached my intellectual limit. That was the most important lesson I ever learned,” she said.

In her final semester at Mercer, Kingsley conducted an individualized Honors research project on polydnavirus in parasitoid wasps, with Dr. Blinderman as her mentor.  “The idea came to me from seeing a parasitized caterpillar on a tomato plant in my backyard. Professor Blinderman ordered some lab-friendly parasitic wasps for me to work with in the lab and we read research papers on the topic. Knowing how to break down research papers and having that research experience gave me a big advantage when I transferred to Rutgers,” Kingsley maintains.

While not looking into a microscope, Kingsley spent part of her final semester reading and interpreting poetry in an Honors class with Professor Fran Davidson (now professor emerita). “The dynamic that Professor Davidson created allowed students a safe and open space to share unfiltered thoughts as we broke down and discussed poems. I felt truly honored to be part of that class and was continually blown away by my classmates’ depth of thought and understanding. It was vigorous, analytical cross-training, and I loved every minute of it,” she said.

Kingsley kept up her impressive pace of work once she transferred, continuing independent research projects and working as an intern in the Rutgers Floriculture Greenhouse and Department of Plant Biology and Pathology.

So, she was exceptionally well-prepared when she was offered a job as a technician in the lab of Dr. James White in the Plant Biology and Pathology Department.

Kingsley’s current project focuses on an invasive plant, Phragmites austrails, commonly found in ditches, canals and waterways along the coastline of the Northeast United States. “We hope to find a way to interrupt the symbiosis between plant and endophytic bacteria,” she explains, adding that in the process of her work, she and her colleagues have discovered specific bacterial isolates that improve plant growth, inhibit harmful fungi and suppress weedy competitors. Indigo, a company in Massachusetts, will further investigate these isolates for use on crop plants. “I am very excited to see that my research may have a positive impact on the future of agriculture,” she said.

Kingsley has been the co-author with Ivelisse Irizarry on nine electronic publications for the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the solo author of two.  She is a member of the American Society of Microbiology and the American Phytopathological Society.

Kingsley says her Mercer foundation has served her well. “I share the knowledge I gained at Mercer with every person I work with in the lab. After I have settled on an experimental design, I look up the material safety data sheet (MSDS) for the chemicals I am using so I know what I am working with, how to handle them, and how to properly dispose of them. I learned from Professor Tanzini that chemical safety is a priority.”

She shares a similar lesson from Professor Hilker, who stressed the proper handling of hazardous biological materials, and the importance of good laboratory practices (GLPs) and standard operating procedures (SOPs). “I have taught several people how to make differential stains and shared the protocol we used in Mercer’s Microbiology lab,” Kingsley said.

In addition to her research, Kingsley helps to maintain supplies in the lab, assists grad students and a post-doctoral student with their projects, mentors undergraduate students, and organizes lab meetings.  She has even found the time to write several laboratory protocols.

This happy grad has clearly not forgotten her roots. She continues to return to MCCC’s West Windsor Campus in the fall to participate in National Chemistry Week, which includes preparing materials and visiting elementary schools to perform experiments that excite and amaze youngsters.  “I am delighted to be part of a volunteer effort that instills an excitement about science. I know firsthand how that can lead to satisfying careers,” Kingsley said.

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