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UHSP Senior Michelle Hollon literally juggles sports and school work.

Freedom to Flourish

From conducting groundbreaking research on snake pheromones to achieving a record-breaking batting average and First-Team All-Conference American Midwest Conference recognition, senior Michelle Hollon is embracing all that University of Health Sciences and Pharmacy has to offer. 

Over the last two years, Hollon has been working with Ben Jellen, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at UHSP, in his lab studying the sex-attractant pheromones produced by female watersnakes.

In collaboration with a chemist from University of Missouri-St. Louis, Jellen and Hollon are hoping to isolate the sex-attractant pheromone, synthesize it, and potentially use it to corral invasive populations of other snake species, such as the Burmese Pythons in the Everglades and the Brown Tree Snake in Guam. 

“Last year, we were trying to figure out if the pheromone was volatile when dispersed, and what we discovered is that it is both volatile and terrestrial,” Hollon said. “A lot of research right now is focused on the pheromone trails left on the ground that attract male snakes. With the grant funding I was awarded, we are using plasma and pheromones that we extracted from a female two years ago to give us a better idea of what kind of chemical we are looking at. 

“We also were able to buy chemicals similar in structure to the sex-attractant pheromone we isolated, but in varying molecular weights to test with other males.”

Until recently, I didn’t recognize how unique our work is and how sparse the data on volatile pheromones was, so it’s been interesting to realize that the work happening in our small lab is potentially groundbreaking.” 

As a student athlete, researcher, tutor and fraternity member, Hollon juggles a lot of responsibilities, but her approach to success is less about perfection and more about effort and going with the flow. 

“This past season, we knew our softball team was going to be smaller, which meant that we were all going to have to play positions that we don’t normally play,” Hollon said. “Because we were all making that sacrifice, it motivated us to work harder as a team. When you’re playing a position you’re not entirely confident in, it’s not about striving for perfection; it’s about putting forth your best effort — and that is something I hope translates into everyone’s academics.”

From collegiate athletics to research opportunities to a degree that would prepare her for a future in health care, Hollon had a lot to check off her college wish list.

I wanted to be able to play softball, do research and get my pre-med degree, which was hard to find in one package. I love this school. I can do anything here. I’m able to be a part of multiple organizations and not feel overwhelmed, and part of that is because of the support of the faculty here. They are very understanding of time and commitments and help make everything very doable.”

Michelle Hollon

As Hollon works towards completing her biomedical sciences degree in 2023, she already has big plans for her future. She plans to pursue her Master of Medicinal Chemistry at UHSP and has already begun taking courses to fulfill requirements for that degree.

“I am hoping to join a research lab focused on chemistry,” Hollon said. “I want to be able to fine-tune my skills and to allow my mind to think more chemically, while still continuing my roles in the other labs. I’ve always wanted to go into medicine. Whether or not that means getting my M.D. or Ph.D., I’m not sure. If I discover that I really love chemistry, I am open to pursuing that as a career. I’m just looking forward to where my hard work and passion takes me.”

This story was first published in the fall 2022 issue of Script Magazine. To view past issues of Script, visit the Script Magazine archive

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