Student-Faculty Collaborations Drive Research, Education

For more information, contact Barb Steadman - 843.857.4199

HARTSVILLE, S.C. – March 6, 2013 –  A pilot bioinformatics research project led by Joe Flaherty, associate professor of biology and director of undergraduate research, and two student co-principal investigators will be used to shed valuable light on the gene regulatory networks that control the development of fungal pathogens.

The project’s co-principal investigators include Coker College biology students Sara Atkinson, a senior from Latta, S.C., and Megan Sexton, a senior from Gaffney, S.C.

Other biology students involved in the project include:

  • Kelley Godbout, a sophomore from Matthews, N.C.
  • Priscilla Fenty, a sophomore from Hallandale, Fla.
  • Brendan McCarron, a senior from Tampa, Fla.
  • Liz Morris, a junior from Stillwater, N.Y.
  • Hazel Osungu-Buyu, a junior from Elgin, S.C.
  • Ashley Thompkins, a junior from Galivants Ferry, S.C.

Research students at Coker will travel to the Medical University of South Carolina ProteoGenomics facility this summer, where they will interact with scientists and bioinformaticians providing support to the project.

The project was funded by a competitive $10,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant awarded late in 2012 through the South Carolina Idea Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence and is expected to be completed at the end of this year.  Flaherty anticipates that preliminary data generated through this project will contribute to a larger research proposal he is developing for submission to NIH.

Beyond the fundamental scientific benefits of the research, Flaherty sees an equally important educational benefit to the work.  Flaherty recently facilitated a bioinformatics/genomics workshop for local area high school students and he plans to teach an advanced molecular biology course to high school students next year, both supported by PULSE.

PULSE is a public-private partnership between the Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics, the Darlington County School District, Coker College and Sonoco. It is designed to improve academic achievement and personal development of students through collaborative academic initiatives. PULSE is funded by Sonoco and administered locally by the TEACH Foundation.

“There is a clear benefit to Coker College students from participating on our faculty-mentored research projects,” said Flaherty.  “So why not extend these positive impacts to our local community?  You shouldn’t need to live near a major research institution to learn about highly relevant and interesting science and technology.”

“Independent laboratory research is an essential educational component for students aspiring to become future scientists, medical doctors and science teachers,” said Flaherty.  “The research program at Coker College is synergistic with respective fungal biology research programs at Purdue University and the University of Arkansas and provides unique opportunities for our undergraduate students to participate in university-level research projects.”

For more information about undergraduate research opportunities at Coker College, contact Flaherty at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or visit  For information about PULSE, contact Sharman Poplava at 843-307-8606.


Coker College readies undergraduates for personal and professional success through a distinctive four-year program that emphasizes a practical application of the liberal arts as well as hands-on and discussion-based learning within and beyond the classroom. Coker is ranked among the “Best Colleges” in the South by U.S. News & World Report as well as The Princeton Review. Located in Hartsville, S.C., Coker is within two hours of the cultural, financial and recreational resources of Charlotte, Columbia, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.



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