Class of 2021: Triniti Turner is driven by a passion for research and forensic science – VCU News | #College. | #Students

Malaria research at the NIH

As an undergrad, Turner interned for two summers at the National Institutes of Health, conducting research focused on malaria.

“Every year hundreds of thousands of people die from malaria and children are the ones who are most affected,” she said. “It’s been recognized that children in heavy malaria transmitted regions are often extremely symptomatic versus adults from the same regions who seldom show symptoms.”

Her research at the NIH involved identifying proteins in the blood samples of infected and noninfected people to determine which proteins could be responsible for producing such overactive immune responses in children and which were responsible for the absence of symptoms in adults. She contributed to research that was published in Malaria Journal and presented it at conferences across the country.

At VCU, her interest in research drew her to Spit for Science, a universitywide longitudinal study focused on substance use and behavioral health in which all incoming VCU students over age 18 are invited to participate.

“I first learned about the Spit for Science program through one of my biology courses,” she said. “I had seen fliers for it too posted around campus. I was interested in applying because I wanted to gain some experience in genetic research, build on the research skills I had and contribute to mental health and drug abuse awareness.”

Turner contributed to two Spit for Science projects, one investigating drinking among students amid COVID-19 and the other focused on genome association studies based on saliva DNA samples from past student cohorts. 

“I enjoyed the experience of looking at real data from campus, seeing how it compares to data from other studies and the pandemic’s effect on alcohol behaviors,” Turner said.

Triniti Turner was drawn to VCU because of its forensic science program, one of only two in Virginia and fewer than 50 nationally to be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. (Allen Jones, University Marketing)

Sharing a love of science

Through a Department of Forensic Science service-learning course, Turner has shared her passion for forensic science with middle school students in Richmond Public Schools, helping to teach forensic science basics as part of an after-school program.

“I’m lucky that the school I’m working with has kids who are really interested in forensic science,” she said. ”Science is a subject that a lot of students I think shy away from because it is a complex subject, so being able to engage students in activities that make science more appealing and fun is pivotal in helping expand the future generation of STEM.”

Following graduation, Turner plans to take a bit of a break from science and will fulfill a longtime dream of living and traveling in East Asia. She’ll be teaching English in South Korea, and is looking forward to working toward becoming fluent in Korean.

Eventually, however, she plans to return and pursue a career in STEM. She’s considering returning to the NIH for post-baccalaureate research, and is interested in one day getting a doctorate in genetic or virology research.

“I also wouldn’t mind working for the FBI and continuing to work in the forensic field,” she said. “I’m just going to keep taking advantage of the opportunities that are sent to me and see where it takes me.”

When Turner graduates next month, Dawson Green said the department will be cheering for her.

“Her academic success, along with her work in the lab and in our service-learning course, are indicators of her leadership potential and easily places her among our top graduates this year,” she said. “We are all very proud of Triniti and grateful for her contributions to our research and service mission in the Forensic Science Department.”

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