CSU Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology

Navigating Challenges of Becoming an Impactful Teacher-Mentor-Scholar



Betwee​n 2010 and 2016, the annual number of new HIV diagnoses decreased nine percent in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that more than one million people in the U.S. had HIV at the end of 2016, but one in seven do not know they have the infection and unknowingly can spread the disease. No cure exists for HIV yet, but drugs are used to slow disease progression in infected patients. Meanwhile, scientists and physicians around the world continue t​o work on preventive interventions so that the virus never enters a patient’s body.

After joining the CSU, Dr. Katherine McReynolds, professor of chemistry at Sacramento State University, won funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to work on new HIV prevention strategies. Her research group is expert in making unique carbohydrate (sugar) macromolecules that might prevent the HIV virus from infecting host cells. But in 2011 she faced a gap in funding and turned to the CSUPERB Research Development seed grant program to support lab operations and student research activities. The lab needed to innovate and improve the process used to make the complicated macromolecular structures. Dr. McReynolds also used the time to develop a collaboration with researchers at Duke University who had the capability to test her group’s molecules against live HIV virus. Based on advice McReynolds received from NIH-funded researchers within the CSUPERB community and from program officers at NIH, she targeted her new proposal to a National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) grant program aimed at funding research groups at regional comprehensive universities like Sacramento State. The strategy was successful; the McReynolds group won the first NIH SCORE grant awarded to the campus.

Today the McReynolds lab is one of the busiest chemistry groups on campus, involving on average 10 undergraduates and three master’s students. McReynolds not only involves students in her scholarship, but also elevates them to gain recognition and showcase their contributions to the research enterprise. McReynolds nominates students in her laboratory for the very competitive, university-wide scholarships and awards sponsored by CSUPERB. As a result, her Sacramento State students have won seven Doris A. Howell–CSUPERB Student Research Scholarships; only 11 are awarded each year. Cory Vierra, a master’s student in the McReynolds lab, was a 2016 Howell Scholar. The depth of his research expertise in carbohydrate chemistry as well as his work on a real-world problem worth solving, led to a job with a startup biotechnology company, BCD Bioscience, in Sacramento.

McReynolds frequently credits the CSUPERB community with the student mentoring and research track record she’s built at Sacramento State. She found collaborators and peer mentors within the CSU who helped her navigate the challenges inherent in becoming an impactful teacher-mentor- scholar. As a r​esult, she became involved in CSUPERB governance councils and was elected chair of the Faculty Consensus Group in 2018. As chair, McReynolds is focused on giving back to the CSU’s biotechnology community by developing professional development programs. She inaugurated the Faculty Short Talk series at the annual CSU Biotechnology Symposium to raise the profile of CSUPERB-funded faculty university-wide. She co-organized a 2019 new faculty workshop to help teacher-scholars hit the ground running on CSU campuses, bringing NIGMS Program Director Anissa J. Brown to California to consult one-on-one with faculty interested in writing NIH grant proposals. Most recently, she spearheaded CSUPERB efforts to reconnect with CSU alumni to smooth the path for student researchers as they leave to start biotechnology careers.