Investing in the Future Care of Tiny Humans


Danielle Gibson
Danielle Gibson

College of Nursing
Program: Doctor of Philosophy a Major in Nursing

Danielle Gibson, a graduate student in the Nursing PhD program, got a master’s degree because she felt it was time to do more. In pursing her master’s degree, she found a passion for research, which is currently focused on neonatal neuroinflammation and neurodevelopment.

When Gibson first decided on a course for a PhD, one of her mentors suggested that she look for a program where there were “faculty that shared her research interests.” AU was that place and the faculty member closest to Gibson’s research area of interest is Dr. Terri Marin. Gibson considers becoming a graduate research assistant working with Dr. Marin’s one the highlights of her graduate career to date. She finds that Marin is a “huge source of motivation” and “a great role model of what a nurse scientist” looks like. Gibson enjoys having a clear “road map” of her “PhD journey.” Gibson is already “encouraging others to pursue advanced degrees” who are ready for a change or a challenge.

Gibson enjoys the interdisciplinary opportunities for research at AU. She is astonished by how much faculty from all corners of AU are invested in her “success and development as a researcher.” She credits the success of her cohort the depth of the expertise and experience of the faculty. All of the faculty and the director of the PhD program encourage the students to submit feedback—and they use it to continuously improve the program.

When asked for advice about going to graduate school, Gibson says that anyone interested should go, but talk to the faculty first. Make sure someone on the faculty has similar research interests. “Ask a lot of questions. If nurse researcher is your goal, stay focused and heed all advice that comes your way.”

Upon graduation, Gibson hopes to have publications already out. She wants to fill her curriculum vita with her research experiences. She’s already presented a poster at the Graduate Research Day at AU and received an award. She also has a scholarship for her PhD Nursing degree. She wants to continue her career as a faculty member, pursing more neonatal research while teaching. The future of all the tiny humans is in good hands.

Family + Cohort = Success in Psychology


Markessa McCoy

Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
Program: Master of Science with a Major in Psychology

Markessa McCoy is a graduate student in the master’s in psychology degree program on the general experimental track, one designed specifically for students that have an interest in pursuing psychology research, perhaps a PhD. Indeed, a doctorate is part of McCoy’s plan, her dream. She says that she could not have made it this far without support from her family and friends in Mississippi as well as her cohort peers who “are always available to talk, do work with, and even just hang out.” She credits her success to those around her. “I am so lucky to be surrounded by such nice people who care about me and my success. I really appreciate them all.”

McCoy works hard with an open mind, eager to learn new things. She is on-track to become a licensed clinical/counseling psychologist. Her broad interests are on the implications of childhood trauma on adulthood as well as ways “to improve therapy outcomes for marginalized groups.” This research will allow her “to serve marginalized populations adequately and become the best clinician possible.” McCoy has found the faculty accessible and “willing to help students succeed.” She enjoys having a cohesive cohort and likes the structure of the overall program. “The rigor prepares us to not only be competitive for the work field but also provides us with experiences and knowledge to purse a doctoral degree, which I find to be extremely important.”

Because of the excellence of the interview process in Psychology, McCoy chose Augusta University. “Unlike other interviews, the faculty made me feel comfortable and were very welcoming. I was able to get over my nervousness very quickly when I was greeted by smiling faces who seemed eager to get to know me. This gave me the impression that Augusta University would be a good” fit. After a year at AU, McCoy admits that she has learned a lot about herself. “And I am certain there will be more new discoveries to come as I complete my second year.” McCoy points to the dedication AU has for supporting students in their academic journeys and the many events and resources on campus. She works as the graduate assistant for the “African American Male Initiative which is one of the programs for Multicultural Student Engagement.” McCoy spends much of her time assisting at the Multicultural Student Engagement Center where she has the opportunity to work with fellow students. She makes note of how committed the staff is to helping each student.  

Her advice to anyone wanting a degree in psychology is to “go for it!” The staff and faculty are supportive, she says, and the experience will prepare each student for their career path, no matter what it might be.  She also suggests that students “be open minded and willing to learn new things about yourself. I think it does more justice to come eager to discover who you are and what you want to contribute to this field than to come in with rigid ideas. You will be exposed to so many new things that you do not want to limit yourself.” Finally, she recommends for those feeling intimidated about fitting in to relax, “there is a space for everyone.”

McCoy is currently applying to doctoral programs. She is confident that her varied research experiences as a graduate student at AU—from the classroom to the African American Male initiative, to conferences, to professional relationships – will give her the skillset she needs to continue her research. She knows she has “a solid foundation to be able to continue to learn and grow as a student and future psychologist.” We agree when she says that she has “found [her] niche and passion within psychology.” She will be one to watch in the coming years.

Lost in the Pandemic and Finding a Community in AU’s Biomolecular Science

Lost in the Pandemic and Finding a Community in AU’s Biomolecular Science

Lost in the Pandemic and Finding a Community in AU’s Biomolecular Science

Amber Ajamu-Johnson
Amber Ajamu-Johnson

College of Science and Mathematics
Program: Master of Science with a Major in Biomolecular Science

The pandemic had a profound effect on many students, from grade school children through post-graduate degree seekers. Amber Ajamu-Johnson was no exception. She graduated with her BS in the midst of the pandemic. As she puts it, “I felt lost and scared. I really didn’t know what to do next. Also, I didn’t feel ready to go into job force; I felt like there was so much more I needed to learn.” In her search for a graduate program, AU rose to the top. “I liked [the Biomolecular Science] program because it not only provided an opportunity to do research but also it had a teaching component.” Augusta was also Amber’s home, and during the pandemic, many people discovered the value of family. Ajamu-Johnson says that “My mom is my biggest fan and motivator.”

Amber has had a love of science from the time she was little. The puzzle of science was not an easy one to solve, but the mysteries that are still out there motivated her to continue even when her studies and projects became difficult. She says, “But you have to give yourself grace, nothing in life comes easy.” The AU Graduate Program sense of community, and her love of science, kept Amber focused on finishing. Graduate school might be rigorous, but it was the people that made it all worthwhile. Amber Ajamu-Johnson will soon graduate with her MS in Biomolecular Science. 

AU's Collaborative Environment Allows Grad-students to Shine

Kendra Bufkin
Kendra Bufkin

College of Allied Health Sciences
Program: Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Applied Health Sciences

Kendra Bufkin looked for a graduate program in Applied Health Sciences that would allow students to collaborate with established scientists and scholars. She found this environment at AU, and it has allowed her to “make connections and discover new resources” of which she had not been aware. In her time at AU, she learned that not only is it okay to ask questions, but that to have a great team it is also important to have a variety of differing expertise to be able to tackle more complex questions. Working in a team “can lead to more innovation and success.”

Bufkin found the faculty to be passionate about training students and willing to go above and beyond to help students find answers and excel in their academic program. This passion trickled down to the students in the classes above her—they too were more than willing to help, to answer questions, and to provide mentoring to junior colleagues. Bufkin encourages those students who will follow her to enter the program with the same attitude. She says they should “be willing to learn, to ask questions,” and to take advantage of all opportunities that they have to network. Knowing others in the program who are further along really helped later as her projects grew more complex, and she needed collaborators and team members with additional skills and knowledge.

Proud of her Award of Excellence in Research from the College of Allied Health Sciences, Bufkin plans to enter the clinical diagnostic field upon graduation. She is interested in helping solve health care issues and hopes to have a lasting impact on improving patient outcomes. She knows this will mean being part of a team and collaborating with other professionals, and her program has well prepared her for this challenge as well as any others that might arise in her future as a clinical researcher.

Use of C. elegans furthers understanding of Aging, Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Microbiome

Nicole Johnson, Dr. Danielle Mor, and Julie Vincent
Left to right: Nicole Johnson, Dr. Danielle Mor, and Julie Vincent

Dr. Danielle Mor and Graduate Students, Julie Vincent and Nicole Johnson, use the tiny worm, C. elegans to better understand Aging, Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Microbiome.

The tiny roundworms, C. elegans, are a type of nematode that have a gene number and gene pool similar to those of humans. Although they look nothing like a human, these worms might help Dr. Danielle Mor solve big mysteries—including the reasons for neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and the role of the gut microbiome in both aging and age-related disease. Mor, a faculty member in the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine in MCG, and her graduate students, Nicole Johnson and Julie Vincent, are hard at work to answer these important questions.

“The work in my lab centers on a few main themes, which we find really exciting. We are very interested in both normal aging and neurodegenerative diseases, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Age is the greatest risk factor for these diseases, and we want to better understand the factors that make aging neurons susceptible to disease, as well as how we might be able to influence aging and disease processes by targeting the gut microbiome,” Mor explains.

Both Julie Vincent and Nicole Johnson presented posters at the 2022 Society for Neuroscience conference. Vincent, who is the Student Ambassador for the Neuroscience Program at The Graduate School, is highly interested in the overlap between Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, with the ultimate goal of helping to develop therapies for both diseases. Although these disorders are usually thought of separately, they actually share a lot of brain pathology in common, including the death of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, and abnormal clumping up of toxic proteins. “Coming from a background initially interested in medicine, this was extremely important to me to be able to quickly understand how the science being practiced in a lab will contribute to modern medicine,” Vincent says.1

Vincent’s research thus far has shown that the toxic proteins associated with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases cause learning and memory deficits when expressed together in the worms. Though it might be surprising, worms can learn associations between different stimuli in their environment, which help them make decisions like which food to move towards, and which potential pathogens to move away from. Vincent and Mor are teaching the worms to associate food with a particular odor, and then testing their memory for that association up to 2 hours later. Worms that have toxic proteins in their neurons perform poorly on this task, and now Vincent is investigating exactly what is going wrong in these neurons to give the worms this cognitive impairment. Dementia occurs in both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and the mechanisms they uncover with their studies might apply to both. “My research is important because I aim to discover methods and mechanisms that can contribute to not only understanding these diseases, but to potential treatment methods and mechanisms!” Vincent says.1

Nicole Johnson is also interested in Parkinson’s disease, but in particular how the gut microbiome may contribute to the disease. She and Dr. Mor received some well-deserved recognition for their work in the last month.2 Johnson reported finding that Lactobacillus brevis, a species of bacteria identified as increased in the guts of people with Parkinson’s disease, also caused numerous problems for the C. elegans roundworms. Worms fed the standard control diet of E. coli moved and reacted better when compared to those fed L. brevis, which had decreases in neuron function. Using their model of worms fed L. brevis, Johnson and Mor are well positioned for future studies to help determine how this gut microbiome species may impact toxic proteins in Parkinson’s disease and cause motor decline. Johnson was featured along with Dr. Mor in the March issue of Drug Discovery News (see note 2).

Johnson explains further that beyond investigating L. brevis in Parkinson’s disease, she has also been really interested in its role in the normal aging. She says, “We know that this species is increased in the gut of PD patients, but its role in normal aging still remains to be discovered.” According to Johnson, the most shocking phenotype of wild-type worms fed L. brevis is their severe reproductive defects. The L. brevis fed worms appear to have difficulty “expelling their eggs and instead retain them inside their uterus—mechanisms underlying this phenotype are still being investigated.” In this study, “given the wide variety of negative health metrics for the worms, it is especially interesting to note that the overall lifespan (survival) of these worms fed L. brevis does not appear to differ from the E. coli fed worms suggesting that there is an uncoupling of their health-span from general lifespan.”

Mor, Johnson, and Vincent are continuing their studies, which have the potential to provide novel insights into the aging process, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s diseases.


2S. Demarco, “To Treat Parkinson’s Disease, Start in the Gut,” Drug Discovery News, 8 March 2023 (pp. 28-30), online:

Fascinated by Computers in a Supportive and Excitement-Filled Environment

William Cocke
William Cocke

School of Computer and Cyber Sciences
Program: Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Computer and Cyber Sciences

"The CCS program has some great researchers
who specialize in some fundamentals of computer and cyber sciences."

William Cocke hopes to one day be a professor. Living and working in Augusta, he decided to pursue his dream of graduate work at Augusta University. It turned out to be a fantastic decision because, as he says, “the growing PhD in CCS (Computer and Cyber Sciences) program at Augusta (University) provides a lot of opportunities to interact with professors.” He found it helpful and exciting to work “one-on-one with professors,” meeting with them “for research projects, independent study courses, professional advice, or office hours.”

Having recently submitted his first conference paper, he will present his paper in Paris at FoSSaCS (Foundations of Software Science and computation Structures) as part of ETAPS (European Joint Conferences on Theory and Practice of Software). His conference paper illuminates only one of the many opportunities to share what he has been learning and researching about new computer science “techniques and technologies.” His research springs from the school’s “ambitious vision” for future growth. Cocke says, “Every professor is willing to meet to discuss research, assist me with conference submissions, and give professional advice about job interviews.” With such a supportive and generous environment, no wonder Cocke is so excited about his future and that of the graduate programs in the School of Computer and Cyber Sciences.

William Cocke is enthusiastic about a future academic post that might combine teaching and research. While not every student coming out of an AU graduate program will become a faculty member in the future—and there are many other avenues open to Augusta graduates—William wants to become professor. He genuinely enjoys the culture of study and research. We wish him well in his graduate work at Augusta University and in his future pursuit of joining the academy.

Wanting to Learn but Needing Flexibility: This AU Advocate finds her perfect degree in the MAISS program

Monty Philpot Brock
Monty Philpot Brock

Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences
Program: Master of Arts with a Major in Intelligence and Security Studies

"There is no other program exactly like this in the country.
National and global politics, as well as United States national security,
have always been of great interest to me, so this program was a natural fit."

Monty Philpot Brock had long wanted to attend graduate school. Her late grandfather had encouraged Monty to pursue as much education as possible. Higher education had not an option for her grandfather, a WWII veteran who had fought at Normandy while a young man. While Monty’s grandfather had quite a different set of experiences in his younger years than those of Monty, his emphasis on education and learning remained a core value in Monty’s life.

Describing herself as an advocate for Augusta University and the MAISS program (Master’s degree in Intelligence and Security Studies), Monty Philpot Brock considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity to study and to fulfill her lifelong dream. She writes, “As an advocate for Augusta University, I hope to send a strong message that I am not only advocating on behalf of our University and programs but also have chosen to be a consumer and invest in them.”

The MAISS program is designed for students interested in careers supporting strategic security policy and intelligence analysis as well as for those interested in career augmentation that might lead to advancements in military, law enforcement, or academia. According to Brock, the program has made a deliberate effort to make it possible for students to fully participate from anywhere in the world, which was one of the many reasons she decided to attend Augusta University. “There is no other program exactly like this in the country,” Brock writes.

Brock continued to work full time as she pursued her degree part time. Already, she has found that daily she uses the information she has learned. Brock writes that, “Professionally, I have a better understanding of what the federal government wants and needs in terms of national security policy experts, intelligence analysts and operators, and academic research. The MAISS program provided me with the tools and understanding to better [address] the needs of the federal workforce.”

Getting to know the charismatic and passionate faculty at AU enhanced the graduate experience for Brock. She felt that her instructors treated her as a professional, guiding her graduate study well. Brock found her instructors approachable for clarity of issues or expectations, and eager to answer her questions or help her solve problems.

“We often hear that national security and intelligence studies are needed to complement many careers and backgrounds,” Brock writes. “The fact that one cannot get something similar anywhere else, while there is a growing demand for this area of study, makes the degree even more valuable. My geography and professional commitments would have been a non-starter to be a full-time student in Augusta. Providing students with the opportunity to take classes both synchronously and asynchronously strengthens enrollment with respect to the type of students and professionals” who might participate in the MAISS program.

Brock balanced her workload for master’s degree against her career, which often called on her to travel. The MAISS program and Monty Philpot Brock’s studies in The Graduate School, gave her an opportunity to build her career, augmenting her knowledge and experience to better equip her for future interactions with government officials and academic and global leaders.

Taren David - A Triple Jag and Aspiring Principal

Taren David
Taren David

College of Education & Human Development
Program: Education Specialist in Advanced Educational Studies

"I chose my particular program because I wanted to build upon my existing
knowledge and skills as an educator to enhance my teaching practices."

Ms. Taren David is driven to become the best educator she can be, knowing as much as possible about the field in part because she would like to someday be a school principal. She certainly seems on the right track. “One of the achievements that I am proud of was being a finalist last year for Teacher of the Year at my school. I was still an induction teacher at the time, so being on the ballot with veteran teachers was mind-blowing.” Last May, Ms. David won the award for Outstanding Graduate Student in Instruction among her peers. “I was thrilled when I found out my program voted for me … It was such an honor!”

Ms. David, “a Double Jag,” has both her undergraduate and master’s degrees from AU. Soon she will have her Specialist degree from the College of Education and Human Development. Already a caring and devoted teacher, she is thrilled that the AU Education Specialist degree in Advanced Educational Studies is fully online. She finds this a strength in the program. “I am incredibly involved at work with sponsoring several [student] organizations, so I needed a program that would allow me the flexibility to complete assignments on my own time.”

Ms. David chose her program because of her deep commitment to teaching. She writes, “I’ve always firmly believed that teachers should be active learners to adequately prepare our students for the future.” Her curiosity about instructional practices is clear as she talks about how to best implement new methods into the classroom or how best to facilitate student learning. “My source of motivation and drive comes from wanting to impact students positively. I want students to feel like they have a safe space” in her classroom or office. Even when students are at a loss for how to proceed with their educational expectations, Ms. David wants each student to feel comfortable coming to her for guidance and support. “I want to be remembered as a passional teacher whose goal was to develop the whole child. One who inspired students to dream big and who made students believe in themselves and the power of ‘YET’.”

When asked if she had advice for students interested in the Specialist program, Ms. David said she would tell them to “Go for it.” She has found the program “very rigorous,” and, at the same time, the professors have “in-depth knowledge of the field” while also understanding for meeting students where they are—as teachers, professionals, and students. The content provided is relevant, including “the necessary tools and resources to succeed in the profession.” And there are “a plethora of opportunities to apply what you are learning in class in your practice” of instruction. Ms. David represents a growing number of students interested in the Specialist program in Education at Augusta University and we are proud to have such a devoted and enthusiastic alumna of our AU graduate programs.

Steven Waldrop - A Family Mentor, a Leap of Faith, and a passion to Make the World Better

Steven Waldrop
Steven Waldrop

College of Nursing 
Program: Doctor of Philosophy with a Major in Nursing

"At Augusta University, the faculty prioritizes student growth.
My faculty authentically cares about me both professionally and personally."

Like many students, Steven Waldrop, had a few lingering doubts before he hit “send” on his application to graduate school, but his hesitancy vanished with thoughts of his grandmother. Steven’s grandmother was an RN and like her, Steven wanted to provide care for the injured and sick. Steven, though, went a step further with a Ph.D. in nursing. His drive was “to improve patient outcomes and the bedside nursing experience” for RNs, like his grandmother, and all other nursing staff and faculty. When asked about advice to others who might be hesitating, he says “to take a leap of faith and apply.” Why? Because he’s learned that, with a Ph.D., he can have a greater impact on the profession and that this higher-level learning can “allow your strengths to impact others worldwide.” 

Steven knew that there was a need for more Ph.D. nurses and, coupled with the changing healthcare climate, it was the perfect time to follow in his grandmother’s footsteps. As Steven says, “As the healthcare environment rapidly changes, PhD prepared nurses are uniquely prepared to generate knowledge leading to vital clinical change. Additionally, the average age of nursing faculty is steadily increasing with a large portion of the workforce planning for retirement.” For nursing education to continue to meet growing demands of both this coming nursing shortage and an increasingly complex patient population, “more nurses must pursue PhD training.” 

Steven chose Augusta University’s doctoral Nursing program because, as he tells it, “1) Augusta University provides world class mentors to jumpstart your research portfolio and professional network, 2) Augusta University offers a flexible graduate experience tailored to each individual student's needs and career goals.” Steven goes on to say that he has found that the College of Nursing faculty members give a student’s growth priority and capitalize on individual strengths. The Ph.D. program in the College of Nursing “is world renowned for their contributions to the nursing profession.” The faculty are diverse allowing all their nursing students “the potential to substantially impact their patient population.”

Steven looks forward to being an independent clinical researcher. He is proud of his promotion to Clinical Data Specialist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. In this role, he will “track NICU quality data and suggest opportunities for clinical improvement.” He credits his faculty mentors and the Augusta University’s College of Nursing with his success and preparedness for the job market. His grandmother would be proud.

John Rudenko - A Leader in So Many Ways 

John Rudenko
John Rudenko

Hull College of Business 
Program: Master of Business Administration

"The people are what makes AU such a great place."

John Rudenko served in the military mostly because he wanted the “opportunity to have a positive impact on the people and world.” This theme in John’s life did not waiver as he entered the MBA program at AU. Why this program? Initially, John chose AU because it was nearby and “military friendly”, but he stayed because there was excellent student support, and the cost was reasonable. Once here, he “loved the campus, its surrounding area, and the proximity to downtown.” John enjoyed the “unique environmental design” along with the AU culture, one that brings people together. John’s MBA cohort brought together not just former military, but also doctors, engineers, athletes, and international students. He writes that he has “never once regretted my choice in choosing AU and moving to Summerville.”

During his studies at James M. Hull College of Business, John realized that his greatest skill did not lie in the technical aspects of business, but in leadership. He was good at “bringing people together and getting them to focus on achieving a goal.” This skill, valued at AU for all our students, will help John reach any goal he sets for himself and is needed and necessary in today’s business world. John found that it was the personal connections he made with classmates and instructors that helped him absorb and connect with the [course] material. And he took those same “teamwork and collaboration skills” and applied them to workplace scenarios. As he puts it, “The more we work together, the more effectively we work as an organization.”

Recently, John—soon to be a leader in his own right—successfully interviewed for his first career move. “During the interview for my current position, I performed exceptionally well because I was able to effectively discuss things like strategic positioning, growth trajectories, and organizational improvement. While I came in at an entry-level position, I am already being trained and mentored for a managerial role.” While thanking his wife for her support, he credits his training in the Hull MBA for his success, “a challenging but very rewarding two years.” More than once, John stressed the importance of having good relationships with his colleagues. “Everyone is together from beginning to end, and we learn just as much from each other as we do from the instructors.”