Mary Kate Horak

Mary Kate Horak seizes the chance to be a leader in the lab

Mary Kate Horak, a senior in dietetics, explored a different place and major before she settled on conducting research at Iowa State University.

“I started at Florida Southern College as a nursing student,” said Mary Kate. “I became a dietetics student here [at Iowa State]. I decided to try my hand at research, and now I’m pursuing graduate school in research.”

This exploration gave her more perspective and insight into what she wanted out of her time at college. But that doesn’t mean the journey was easy for her.  

“A lot of the experience comes from just taking a deep breath and doing it — talking to your professors, getting your name out there, and truly fostering a curiosity for what you want to find.”

Mary Kate highlighted the importance of putting yourself out there, even if it doesn’t work out right away.

“I applied to an American Society for Microbiology fellowship last semester, and I was third runner up, but it was a big deal,” she said. “You get a lot experience from the application process.”

Mary Kate’s patience and persistence paid off when she received a 2019 Louise Rosenfeld Undergraduate Research Internship. Now she works with Melha Mellata, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition, to better understand how bacteria in the chicken gut microbiome communicates with probiotics and vaccines that are administered in the lab.

“Right now we are screening E.coli isolated from a previous experiment to see if they produce an antimicrobial peptide called colicin,” Mary Kate said.

The Rosenfeld internship has given Mary Kate the chance to take an active role in her own research.

“With the Rosenfeld, I have been given a more cohesive, independent project to work on,” she said. “Dr. Mellata really makes sure that all the people in the lab are aware of the research project, are taking active roles, and not the only ones washing dishes — she is very inclusive.”

Mary Kate is looking forward to the opportunity to improve her skills as a leader in the lab.

“Leading my own segment is very new,” said Mary Kate. “I definitely hope to hone in my skills in organizing, researching, and making sure I’m doing each step to its highest efficiency.”