Class of 2022: Biology major is all a student can be

Class of 2022: Biology major is all a student can be

Story and photos developed by University Communications.

Senior biology major Wesley DeMontigny.
Senior biology major Wesley DeMontigny.
A t Georgia College & State University, senior biology major Wesley DeMontigny of Marietta learned nothing’s set in stone, and it’s OK to change your mind.

“We should be willing to change our views and apportion belief according to the available evidence,” DeMontigny said. “Your views will change throughout college, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. But if you keep an open mind and seek out the truth, you will stumble upon it sooner or later.”

When choosing a university, DeMontigny wanted small class sizes and a beautiful campus. When he visited Georgia College, he “was sold.”

He had always enjoyed science but wasn’t clear which major to pursue at first. DeMontigny tried several subjects, but nothing clicked until he took Principals of Biology with Dr. Daniel Burt.

He took off after that.

Since then, DeMontigny has participated in several research labs and projects that have or will generate publications. He won the nationally prestigious Goldwater Scholarship during his undergraduate years and just applied for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which grants $37,000 a year for the first three years towards a Ph.D. The fellowship requires novel scientific research. DeMontigny hopes to study an elusive genus of marine parasites, "Amoebophrya," while pursuing his Ph.D. in cellular and molecular biology at the University of Maryland.

In the future, he’d like to be a professor and conduct research in microbiology.

We should be willing to change our views and apportion belief according to the available evidence. Your views will change throughout college, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. But if you keep an open mind and seek out the truth, you will stumble upon it sooner or later.
– DeMontigny
Making use of diverse opportunities offered at Georgia College helped DeMontigny win the Goldwater Scholarship.

“It’s the most prestigious award an undergraduate researcher in natural sciences, mathematics or engineering can get,” he said. “I believe my heavy involvement in undergraduate research, work at the Learning Center and passion for microbiology are responsible for winning me this scholarship.”

In Burt’s lab, DeMontigny did soil microbiology—studying bacteria from chicken litter—how it survives in soil and its ability to generate crystals of calcium carbonate. He also examined the presence of "Fusarium oxysporum," a harmful plant-infecting fungus found in hemp farms throughout Georgia. Both topics required use of classical microbiology techniques like bacterial and fungal culturing, soil chemistry and molecular techniques like DNA extraction and polymerase chain reactions.

DeMontigny spent a year in Dr. Dave Bachoon’s molecular source tracking lab too, analyzing the quality of water from streams around Georgia, Florida and Puerto Rico. This research involved filtering water, extracting DNA from filters and using polymerase chain reactions to detect genes belonging to pathogens and fecal bacteria.

For several months, DeMontigny has also been in Dr. Rich Adam’s genomics lab programming simulations that generate genomic data for different evolutionary scenarios. This has helped him gain experience in bioinformatic techniques like genome assembly, transcriptome assembly and machine-learning assisted inference of gene regulatory networks.

DeMontigny gives a class presentation.
DeMontigny gives a class presentation.

Last summer, he also completed a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU) at Central Michigan University. DeMontigny studied the effects of crude-oil on bacteria that live in coastal island environments in Lake Michigan. The research gave him additional experience in scientific fieldwork, classical microbiology and molecular biology.

“I originally began research, because I was I thought it was a potential career path,” DeMontigny said. “Along the way, I discovered that I loved research and learned way more about biology than I ever could in a class.”

At the Learning Center, he tutored in biology, organic chemistry and other STEM subjects.

“One of the best ways to improve your academics is to surround yourself with people who care about their own academics, DeMontigny said. “The Learning Center not only provided me with an academically-driven community but also allowed me to positively impact the Georgia College community and help make STEM a little less scary.”

Like many students, DeMontigny said he changed a lot in college.

Through my education at Georgia College, and especially through my scientific training, I’ve learned to be skeptical and consistent in my thinking. This skill is essential to scientific discovery and every part of life.
– DeMontigny
The changes are the result of developing his critical thinking skills. It’s easy, he said, for young people to be swayed by ideologies and influential people. In high school and early college, it seemed he was adopting a new school of thought every other month—with each new ideology contradicting the previous one.

“Through my education at Georgia College, and especially through my scientific training, I’ve learned to be skeptical and consistent in my thinking. This skill is essential to scientific discovery and every part of life,” DeMontigny said.

His advice to incoming students: Take advantage of every opportunity.

“What led to my success is I was invested in my classes and genuinely loved the subjects I studied,” he said. “Besides that, succeeding in school is identical to succeeding anywhere else in life—create good habits and surround yourself with people that support you.”