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The Paw Print

News for Wildcats, by Wildcats.

The Paw Print

News for Wildcats, by Wildcats.

The Paw Print

Student Feature: McQuirter takes home gold at NAACP ACT-SO competition

Nashyla McQuirter
This past summer, Senior NaShyla McQuirter was awarded first place for her research on gut motility for the NAACP ACT-SO Youth program.

Ever since her freshman year, NaShyla McQuirter, a current senior at Normal West, has participated in the NAACP ACT-SO Youth Program, which is a competition recognizing creative talent and academic achievement in the next generation of leaders.

Although she has always felt like a career in the medical field was in her future, she lacked confidence in her research abilities. 

However, all of that changed during McQuirter’s junior year when she, once again, enrolled in the program. This time, she chose to focus her research on gut motility, which can be defined as “the movement of food through the body.”

With the help of her mentor, Mrs. Amanda Long, McQuirter conducted her testing from Sep. ‘22 to May ‘23, where she studied fruit fly larvae and measured the rate of their intestinal contractions. 

“I’ve been passionate about the digestive system since middle school. As I started to conduct research in high school, I made it a goal to perform a study about the digestive system,” McQuirter explains.

To execute her research project, she spent her time studying healthy larvae and comparing that to larvae that had an amputation mimicking a disorder found in humans.

This disorder is Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).

After months of tedious research, McQuirter got to present her work for the competition, where she ultimately won first place in the “Health and Medicine” category.

However, even more importantly than winning first prize, McQuirter’s research could later serve as a possible clinical treatment option for people with DMD, decreasing symptoms of nausea, vomiting, constipation and diarrhea.

Long is extra proud of McQuirter, and highlights just how impressive winning this award truly is. “Winning gold at ACT-SO was a MAJOR accomplishment. Thousands of students compete annually in multiple categories across the nation. NaShyla had to not only conduct her own original scientific investigation, but also had to spend months researching, writing, and practicing her presentation to prepare for the national competition in Boston. She had to share her research with a panel of scientists and medical experts, who then asked her complicated questions about her research that she had to answer on the spot. We joke in the science department that NaShyla is a grad student. The amount of work she put into this competition during her junior year equates to what graduate students in biology complete as they work toward earning their Masters in Science,” Long boasts of McQuirter.

With this accomplishment and research under her belt, McQuirter has gained a new found confidence in herself and her research skills.

She has ultimately decided to continue pursuing a career in research, specifically in health and medicine.

“After college, I intend to apply for an MD-PhD. Through this program, I will earn a medical and doctorate degree in eight years. From there, I can later begin work as a Gastroenterologist (GI) and translational researcher. Essentially, I would get to conduct research that will directly benefit the patients that I treat as a GI,” McQuirter notes.

McQuirter encourages other students to participate in competitions such as the ACT-SO, as it is a great way to discover what you love and put something on your portfolio for work and college applications.

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