Written By: Isaiah Hudson 

Ashley Person is a May 2024 graduating senior who majored in Biomedical Science at Old Dominion University. While completing her undergraduate degree she excelled academically as a Perry Honors student, has been an advocate for diversity within STEM, and participated in the Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement program (U-RISE) at ODU. Person is not only an exemplary student but felt supported at ODU as an underrepresented student to be able to build her dominion and have the determination to want to break barriers after graduating from ODU.

Person’s father is in the Navy, and spent most of her childhood in Sasebo, Japan. Coming from a military family, the values of hard work, strong morals, and high ethics were instilled into her. After her family moved back to the United States, she attended and graduated from high school in Washington State. When orders came for Person's father to be stationed in Virginia, they left the West Coast and made their way to the East Coast after her graduation. After getting settled into Virginia, she learned about ODU and felt it “closely aligned with her future goals.”   

“I chose ODU because of the research facilities, the community, and being able to earn an affordable degree,” said Person. “ODU takes care of its students and paves the way so that their research is possible and that's what makes the university special.” Deciding on Biomedical Science as a major was easy because of her passion for the sciences.  

After getting acclimated to ODU, Person found out about U-RISE, thanks to an email from Douglas Mills, senior lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences. 

“I was delighted to find out this opportunity would give me the chance to conduct professional research,” said Person. After attending a Zoom meeting later that month, it became apparent that she wanted to venture on this adventure.   

Joining U-RISE started her journey in professional research which led to her joining ODU’s Tick Research Team. “The U-RISE program is designed to assist underrepresented undergraduate students, including minorities and disabled individuals, in cultivating their research abilities and professional skills, preparing them for higher education and their career,” said Person. “The U-RISE Program can be an important steppingstone in one's career as a future research scientist.”

Committed to undergraduate research, Person works alongside experts in this field ODU’s Tick Research Team studies host-vector-pathogen systems from different perspectives. Members of the team stem from many research backgrounds, ranging from microbial genetics to mathematical ecology. 

Person primarily focuses on the Tick Team’s TickBot, which is a mechanical device used to reduce tick populations while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum. Person implements limitations on the Tick Bot to find solutions for challenges the Tick Bot will face in real word conditions.   

Person highlights the work she has done with her principal investigator (PI) Chair and Professor, Holly Gaff, Ph.D., in the Department of Biological Sciences who runs the Tick team. Person said, “Dr. Holly Gaff, my mentor, allowed me the space and support to come up with my ideas and methods, and, most importantly, she did not micromanage me.” “I was trusted to complete my work like a colleague trying to navigate the uncertainties of research.” 

Gaff spoke highly of Person. “Ashley has been working in my lab for a couple of years on the TickBot project, which is a project at the intersection of tick biology and engineering. It was great to find a student who was interested in both areas,” said Gaff. 

Person looks back at her time at ODU and had the following to say, “At ODU, I felt most supported by my lab, the ODU tick lab. The team created an atmosphere where I felt safe to ask questions and make mistakes to learn from. I appreciate the family culture the lab has created and how I was welcomed in so warmly on my first day.” While looking to further her education in her desired field she also found community in the process. “The combination of academic excellence, diverse community, dedicated faculty, research opportunities, and community engagement makes ODU a special place to learn, grow, and thrive,” said Person.

“Being a woman and being a Black woman at that is everything to me and defying stereotypes, challenging systems of oppression, paving the way for the next generation to have a more inclusive and diverse scientific community,” said Person. She is not only passionate about her studies, but she also stresses the importance of inclusivity within her field. It's important to note that while Person advocates for diversity within the scientific community she is also breaking barriers within the community itself. 

“Even though women in STEM face obstacles, it is important to pursue and keep persevering your dreams because the next generation needs someone to look like them in the careers they want to pursue,” said Person.  

After graduation on May 4, 2024, Person’s next steps include taking a year off to undertake a post baccalaureate at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) before applying to graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in Environmental Science studying homeopathic approaches to illnesses.

To anyone interested in being a part of U-RISE, Person said, “In short, this program will develop research skills, professional outlook, and connections to propel you into a successful future. Most of all, I appreciated my mentor taking the time to get to know me and understand who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do in the future. I was astonished at their interest in me and how they used that information to cater their research to meet my future goals.”