Biology Student Represents RSU at Research Day at the Capitol

Rogers State University biology senior Cassandra Clay of Owasso participated in Oklahoma Research Day held March 15 at the state capitol presenting her original research about the effects of exercise on stress markers.

Each Oklahoma college is invited to send a student to participate in the annual event to demonstrate the high quality of original research conducted in the state. Clay was competitively selected as this year’s representative from RSU.

“Cassandra has developed a research topic, which is unique in a way, since it is an interdisciplinary project between biology and chemistry,” said Dr. Keith Martin, dean and professor of biology at RSU. “It was not only well developed to intertwine two areas but also maximized the use of our institutional resources. She was courageous enough to go outside of her comfort zone as a biology student to work on a ‘bio-chemical’ project.”

Within the RSU biology degree, students are required to take two semesters of Biology Research Methods. They develop independent projects with the guidance of a faculty member and carry out their research during the two courses.

Clay worked closely with her mentor Dr. Katarzyna Roberts, an assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics and Physical Sciences. They received the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Grant to fund the project and with it were able to buy a microtiter plate reader for the department.

Clay’s study, “The Effects of Exercise on Biological Stress Markers,” was conducted to determine if exercise reduces cortisol, a stress marker. Previous studies have shown a positive relationship between exercise and stress reduction but there hasn’t been a study to see how exercise specifically affects cortisol, a steroid hormone naturally created by the adrenal gland during stress.

To conduct her study, Clay collected saliva samples from three groups (athletes, independent exercisers and non-actives) to measure the levels of cortisol (a hormone) and alpha amylase (an enzyme). These are biological stress markers that indicate stress levels in the human body. Clay hypothesized that physical activity would reduce overall cortisol levels, and her research found that there was a reduction in cortisol with exercise.

This research further suggests a mechanism for exercise’s role in reducing stress, which has great implications in the advocacy of healthy, active lifestyles.

“We are very excited about our research and hope to get it published,” said Clay. “We believe that physical exercise is beneficial to overall health and well-being.”

Clay thanked everyone who has helped with the project, especially her mentor, Dr. Roberts, and Dr. Sue Katz, associate professor of biology, for their assistance and guidance.

“We have a fantastic faculty in the Department of Mathematics and Physical Sciences,” Clay said. “They really care about their students. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere else for my undergraduate degree.”

Clay plans to further her education and become a physician. She would like to travel and practice in underserved communities around the world with an organization such as Doctors without Borders or the Peace Corps.

By Monique Demarais, RSU PR Intern