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"FSU has really left me with this great thirst for more knowledge."
By the time Lee Carella graduated from The Florida State University in May, she had spent two years as an assistant in the neuroscience laboratory. In her final semester, she developed her own project and won the Bess H. Ward Honors Thesis Award.
"When you read about things, they can seem so abstract, especially cellular things you can't see, but when you're actually doing a project, you can see the practical application," Carella said. "I'd recommend the honors thesis program to all FSU students."
Carella learned that undergraduates could assist in the labs when she took a one-hour seminar on careers in biology. "There are so many options with a degree in biology that it's kind of scary to make a choice," she said. Since then, she has worked three professors in the lab.
Carella was only a sophomore when she was drawn to seek a lab position after hearing a lecture on brain behavior by Thomas Houpt, an associate professor of biology and neuroscience.
She worked with Houpt on her honors thesis project using rats to study the effect of lithium on a particular gene. It is part of a larger study designed to eventually find ways to reduce the side effects of lithium used to treat bipolar disease. Ill patients sometimes stop taking the medication because of such reactions as sleepiness and indigestion.
Carella's work with Houpt included experiments at the Florida State's National High Magnetic Field Laboratory.
"Dr. Houpt has been brilliant. He's like a textbook; he has a way of explaining something that makes it easy to understand," she said.
She hasn't pinpointed a specific career, so she plans to work for a year in the field before going to graduate school in medicine or health sciences.
When she earned her undergraduate degree from the Department of Biological Science in the College of Arts and Sciences, her family had a double celebration. Her sister, Catherine Carella, also earned her degree in May 2009 in civil and environmental engineering from the College of Engineering. Her older sister, Amy, graduated from Florida State in 1997 in communications.
The Carellas are from Tallahassee, where they graduated from Leon High School. Lee Carella pointed out the benefits of going to school in her hometown: Home-cooked Italian meals.
"In the beginning I worried about staying in Tallahassee, but I've grown up knowing FSU's great reputation," said Carella, who lived on campus her freshman year before moving into a townhouse. "I've had so many opportunities."
For example, she joined with a co-presenter to bring fiddler crabs, scallops, oysters and starfish in touch tanks to local schools where children could hold the animals and examine some under microscopes. The goal of Florida State's Sea-to-See program is to show students the importance of caring for marine habitats used by the animals they have come to know.
"The fiddler crabs are the favorites because they move so fast," Carella said.
In her years at Florida State, she also won a Bess Ward Travel Scholarship to study abroad. She chose a semester in Panama, where she studied Spanish and culture.
She said Florida State has proven to her how much there is yet to learn.
"When I was picking classes for my last semester, I started getting sad — there were so many classes in subject areas I hadn't taken…philosophy, sociology," she said. "The four years went by so fast….FSU has really left me with this great thirst for more knowledge."