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Franklin triple-major seeks to serve her community through interdisciplinary approaches

Jason Hawkins

Some may say that Rayna Carter has a lot on her plate for a second-year student, but it’s all about service for her. She wants to make her time at college count by using her time and skills to help as many people as possible. 

“I've always been passionate, not just about leadership but about service,” she said. “That's really where my drive comes from: that desire to help people however I can.”

Carter is triple-majoring in biology, psychology, and sociology, and was recently accepted as a Mid-Term Foundation Fellow in the Morehead Honors College. Contrary to any assumptions that she might be pre-med, this combination of majors is rather the result of her goal to take an interdisciplinary approach to her research, service, and worldview. She wants to use science to help people, and she believes that an unignorable part of that mission is understanding them on every level.

“I want to combine social sciences and the hard sciences,” Carter said. “It’s important to understand that, when you study anything about people, there are biological aspects, but there are also the aspects of family and community.”

Carter got her start in research early on: the first semester of her freshman year. She had just moved into her dorm room the night she decided to apply for a position working in the lab of Julie Stanton, associate professor in the Franklin College department of cellular biology and nationally-recognized expert in biology education research.

“I applied to this lab on my very first day at UGA,” she said. “When I was moving in, I got an email from my coordinator for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation, and they told me that the lab was looking for an undergraduate researcher. I thought, ‘Oh, I'll just apply so I can get denied and get that first denial under my belt.’”

Despite her expectations,  Carter was accepted into the lab, and she began work focused on metacognition and life science education.

“We study metacognition, which is just a big word for thinking about thinking,” she said. “We study what students think about learning in college, and we're following the same students all the way through their college careers.”

The research involves annually interviewing a group of life science students from 3 different USG institutions about their approaches to learning, their preparation for future classwork, and their sense of confidence when learning. They also give the students difficult life science problems to solve to, as Carter put it, “see how they tackle a metacognitive challenge in the moment.” 

“Our research is focused on life science students because, as we all know, there's attrition in life science majors,” Carter explained. “Many people are dropping their biology major and doing something else. We want to use metacognition to better support student learning in biology, so that students experience more success in their challenging coursework.”

The goal is to establish metacognitive benchmarks for where students in the life sciences are academically in their first year and beyond in order to more effectively foster students’ metacognitive development and improve students’ learning. 

“Rayna is an absolute joy to collaborate with,” Stanton said. “I am grateful for the leadership roles she has taken in our lab and I am always impressed by the thoughtful insights she brings to our work.”

The lab’s approach has been a good fit for Carter’s academic and personal goals, as it has exposed her to a variety of research methods she may not have gotten to utilize otherwise. In alignment with her dedication to service, she plans to study substance use disorders during her graduate career.

“Our lab is very qualitative,” Carter said. “I want to go to graduate school and do research on substance use through an interdisciplinary lens. But to do that, I'll have to know a lot of different kinds of research methods. Not only do I want to get the statistics and biomedical information that are involved with someone’s life. I also want to be able to talk to someone and get social and behavioral information that I can use.”

Carter presented this research on metacognition at the 2023 Annual Biomedical Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) held in Phoenix, Arizona. She also won an award for her presentation. Above all, she’s grateful for the opportunities this lab has provided.

“I'm grateful to have had such great mentorship in the lab,” she said. “I've been able to grow every semester and do something different. The skill set that I'm learning in the lab is going to help me. This lab is so respectful of everyone's time and what they can commit which has taught me a lesson on building relationships.”

In addition to her research, Carter is a 2024 orientation leader and a Franklin College senator in the Student Government Association. She hopes to serve the UGA and Athens community in more ways in the years to come.

Image: Rayna Carter

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