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Nelson Vila-Santana '14

A Future in Research

Nelson Vila-Santana ’14, of Farmington, Conn, was a biomolecular science major when he transferred into Green Mountain College his sophomore year and became a biology major and chemistry minor.

Nelson found out about GMC while visiting a friend that attended the College—he remembers seeing a group of spontaneous musicians playing outside of Moses and the experience struck him as a strong indicator of a uniquely supportive community.

While he was a student at a state school, he had been frustrated by the lack of one-on-one connection with professors, a problem that he has not had here. Also, he noted that GMC has been able to provide him with a diversity of opportunities.

“Almost anything I do outside of class is bio-related, for example, working with the Nature Conservancy,” Nelson contended. “I have had a lot of different opportunities.”

Outside of his studies in biology, he enjoys hiking, biking and playing on the men’s rugby’s team. “It’s a real brotherhood of the guys on the team, and it’s a great way to get to know people,” he said, referring to his rugby experience. “It’s really just enjoying another person, time with them, on the field.”

Nelson is able to combine fitness and biology into fieldwork, an aspect of the sciences that he really enjoys. He’s been working with master’s student Keith Roberts from the Nature Conservancy on the Native Plant Restoration Nursery initiative at the College.

“What I’ve done so far is help him collect seed, stratify it (a set of preservation techniques) and over-winter the saplings,” Nelson related. “You need to use disease resistant trees, identified through genotyping, and grow them in the nursery. They can then be sold to people who are rehabilitating areas of the Champlain valley.”

The purpose of this fieldwork is to eventually rehabilitate the biodiversity of the clay-plain forest that used to exist in this area, a project that Nelson finds exciting.

Nelson is particularly enthusiastic about certain subjects for study in biology such as DNA and RNA research and roles proteins play in organism development. In terms of what he is passionate about, he cited an example of the changes that occur on a cellular level when a new DNA fragments are introduced into a specific organisms.

He observed, “You can have such a small change in DNA and it could cause a catastrophic change in some physiological process.”

This past summer, he worked in Colorado at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory as a part of a research experience for undergrads [REU] funded by the National Science Foundation. His short-term goals include another REU between junior and senior year, and after graduating, he plans to enroll in grad school and continue his studies. In the long-term, his post-graduate goals are to work in a research institution or a biology lab.

He is passionate about his major, and does not envision a future without a research career in biology. Nelson explained, “Bio makes sense to me.”

By Laura Huley '13

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