UAF BLaST Scientists of the Month, September–November 2021

Share this posting on social media!

Contact Info:

By Amy Topkok, BLaST Reporting and Outreach Coordinator

The Biomedical Learning and Student Training (BLAST) program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) highlights scientists from all biomedical fields through their Scientist of the Month articles. These articles are shared across the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) campuses, and all BLaST partner institutions, which include Iļisaġvik College, Fort Lewis College, Diné College, Salish Kootenai College, and Alaska Pacific University. Below are the Scientists of the Month for September, October and November, 2021.

September 2021 BLaST Scientist of the Month: Craig Chythlook

Craig Chythlook

Craig Chythlook, of Dillingham, Alaska, was a BLaST scholar from 2020 to 2021 and a BLaST undergraduate research experience (URE) awardee in 2019. Chythlook  is currently a senior at University of Alaska Fairbanks seeking a B.A. in Business Administration. His honors include four years on the UAF Dean’s list, recipient of the 2021 Dean’s Choice Award at the Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity (URSA) Annual Research day, served as an undergraduate delegate for the Model Arctic Council Conference in fall 2018, and being selected as a featured student speaker for the 2021 NIH DPC Symposium. He is Yup’ik, a non-traditional student, husband, and proud parent of two young boys.

Chythlook’s BLaST experience started when he was an Undergraduate Research Experience awardee working on a project titled, “Rural Water Development,” which focused on the economics of water systems in Dillingham, Alaska. In this business-centered project, Chythlook looked at topics of clean water, subsistence, and evaluation of renewable resources available to families and those vested in subsistence activities in rural communities. Chythlook has been able to travel with his mentor Barbara Johnson to Upper and Lower Kalskag, Alaska, to interview rural residents from 2019 to 2020. He also shared his findings as a guest lecturer in two rural economic classes at UAF. As a non-traditional Indigenous scholar, Chythlook is using his previous knowledge and perspectives to focus his research topic and questions on water and subsistence. He has enjoyed listening to rural residents, including many Indigenous Elders, as they tell stories about their subsistence activities and lifestyles. He asked rural residents about how water impacts their ability to subsist, how they use their own self-described metrics to measure a successful water system in their communities, and how that affects their ability to sustain their subsistence activities. Academic interest in subsistence, food sovereignty, and food security issues is increasing, but there is a noticeable lack of studies to help understand how Alaska Native residents gauge success within their communities. Chythlook hopes to continue his research project as the Indigenous Liaison for the International Arctic Research Center at UAF, where he will further expand on his interests of rural food security and food sovereignty concerns and issues.

Chythlook has had several mentors during his BLaST experience. He met his mentor Barbara Johnson, a current Ph.D. student of Natural Resources and Sustainability, in the Spring of 2018 while she was presenting her master’s thesis as a guest lecturer during his economic class. Since then, they have worked on two projects together. She has helped expand Chythlook’s knowledge of research methodologies, economics, and data analysis. 

“I would like to thank and mention Lori Gildehaus, my BLaST RAMP since the beginning of my scholarship in the fall of 2019. Lori has been a constant supporter, editor, communications and logistical specialist, and much more,” Chythlook said.

Both Johnson and Gildehaus helped Chythlook sign up for events, learn more about managing a positive work-life balance through consistent time management, taught professional development, helped him expand and explore research topics and methodologies, improve communication, and other topics. Chythlook is a peer-mentor for other undergraduate students in the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management Mentoring program and is going on his second year. Chythlook has recently accepted a position as an Indigenous Liaison for the Food Security Working Group, a group formed from the 2020 Arctic Observing Summit. He is looking forward to using the research and communication skills he learned while being a BLaST scholar to further support research about food sovereignty and food security in Alaska.

photos of subsistence food production, including processing and making salmon strips, salmon filets for freezing, and blackberries/crowberries
BLaST Scholar Craig Chythlook shared his photos of subsistence food production, including processing and making salmon strips, salmon filets for freezing, and blackberries/crowberries- all of which need clean water. (2020, Chythlook)


October 2021 BLaST Scientist of the Month: Shayna Matson

Shayna Matson
Shayna Matson

Shayna Matson, who is of Filipino descent, is a senior pursuing a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Cell and Molecular Biology. Matson is a third year BLaST Scholar, a UAF Honors Climate Scholar, and she holds an officer title in the Honors Student Advisory Council (HSAC). Born and raised in Fairbanks, she is a first-generation college student and will graduate in May 2022. Matson is interested in biology and public policy and plans on pursuing public health in graduate school. She enjoys playing piano, hiking, gardening and making Filipino baked goods.  

Matson’s research interests lie in epidemiology and infectious diseases. In her first year in BLaST, Matson conducted research in Thomas Kuhn, Ph.D.,’s lab (Kuhn is a former recipient of a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project) and focused on antigen-presenting cells and the kinetics of cathepsin digestion of the hemagglutinin (HA) protein found on the surface of the influenza A virus H1N1. In the project, they worked on simulating an immune response to aid in understanding how to create better and more effective vaccines.

Matson would like to thank Kuhn and Tynan Becker, Ph.D., (a former BLaST Graduate Mentoring Research Assistant) for “welcoming her into her first research opportunity with open arms and offering extensive guidance and mentorship on her first undergraduate research project.” 

Since 2019, Matson has worked in the lab of Devin Drown, Ph.D., (Drown is a current recipient of a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project) looking at microbial communities in water samples taken around the UAF campus to understand the effects of building lockdown on water quality. Under guidance with UAF graduate students Tracie Haan (former BLaST URE) and Taylor Seitz, Matson learned how to develop effective research questions, present her findings at conferences, and learned the basics of bioinformatics.

Matson has presented at many conferences and events, including the 2019 One Health Research Conference of Alaska, the 2019 Midnight Sun Science Symposium, the 2019 Undergraduate Research and Scholarly Activity’s Research Day conference, and the 2021 One Health, One Future conference. She and her research team were awarded the Dean’s Choice award for the 2019 URSA Research Day conference. 

She also participated in the 2021 UAF Summer Climate Research Intensive researching the effects of wildfire on soil moisture and permafrost depth under the mentorship of Elena Sparrow, Ph.D., and Katie Spellman, Ph.D., and she was appreciative of receiving mentorship during this project.

Finally, Matson thanks her BLaST Research Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP), Theresa Vertigan, for giving her almost three years of mentorship and advice as Matson navigated the world of undergraduate research.

“All of the abovementioned mentors have had a tremendously positive impact on me as both a scientist and student. Everything I have learned, from setting up PCR reactions to creating posters for conferences, has been from these amazing mentors. I know for a fact that I would not be the kind of BLaST Scholar I am today without them,” Matson said. 

Photos above: BLaST Scholar Shayna Matson (l), fellow undergraduate Ana Strachan (m), and their Graduate Mentoring and Research Professional Tynan Becker at URSA 2019. Bottom Left: Matson with Elena Sparrow, Ph.D., Summer 2021; and Bottom Right: Matson in Drown’s Lab. (D.Drown, 2021)






November 2021 BLaST Scientist of the Month: Megahn Reese

Megahn Reese
Meghan Reese

Megahn Reese, who is of Potawatomi heritage, is a senior pursuing a B.S. in Biological Sciences with a concentration in Biomedical Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Reese was a BLaST Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) recipient for Spring 2020 and Spring 2021, and now for the academic year 2021-22. She is passionate about giving back to underserved communities and will graduate in May 2022. She plans on working as an EMT before applying to graduate school. She enjoys the outdoors, skiing, hiking, camping, and taking care of her many house plants.

Since Fall 2019, Reese has been working in Andrej Podlutksy, Ph.D.,’s cell and molecular lab, studying DNA repair in ovarian cancer cell lines OV90 and SKOV3 in response to X-ray damage using the standardized comet assay procedure. 

“This project has really cultivated my love for science and inspired me to consider a career in women’s health or oncology. My experience in the URE program has also given me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I have been learning while pursuing my degree and allowed me to find a bright and devoted network of peers and professors,” she said. 

“This project addresses a societal issue that has affected nearly every species: cancer. Information on cancer cell lines is pertinent to the mission of the One Health initiative because it contributes to the identification of correct treatments for members of our community who are ill. One Health shines a light on the idea that projects such as this can have a widespread impact within all aspects of our society... DNA repair times are vital for research on treatments on ovarian cancer and my project is aimed to shed light on this.”

Reese has been mentored by Podlutsky, a former recipient of a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project, and Robert Williams, a former BLaST URE who is pursuing a master’s of science degree at UAF. She also credits learning from her peers, especially Tristan O’Donoghue, who was a BLaST URE and graduated May 2020.

“All my mentors taught me to help other students in learning lab techniques that will prepare them for their careers. Dr. Podlutsky has prepared me to succeed after receiving my degree by teaching me to be resourceful and confident in my knowledge. I entered undergraduate research with no laboratory experience, and he taught me from the ground up, offering advice and professional development,” she said.

Through this pandemic, she and her research team have been meeting bi-weekly via Zoom about how to move forward with the project and overcome any issues that come up. Communication is sometimes daily to share progress to make sure they keep up with projected timelines.

“All of these people play large roles in my project, as they help me with questions and procedures that require assistance. My mentors and peers have provided much needed support during my journey to becoming a more well-rounded and confident student researcher,” Reese said.

Photos right-above: BLaST URE Megahn Reese (r) with Andrej Podlutsky, Ph.D., in the lab recording and analyzing comet assays.
Bottom Left and Bottom Right: Reese in Podlutsky’s Lab. (Photo credits, Reese, 2021)


The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
Need Assistance? Please contact our support team: .