Above and beyond: Graduate student Anne Nichols excels as Stamps Scholar

Anne Nichols in the lab with Linda Dahlgren
Ph.D. student Anne Nichols (left) and advisor Linda Dahlgren examine how
different signaling pathways are affected by exposing stem cells to mechanical
strain.

Students in the Biomedical and Veterinary Science (BMVS) Graduate Program prepare to be the next generation of scholars and researchers who will advance animal and human health — and graduate student Anne Nichols is no exception.

The researcher, student leader, and volunteer not only exemplifies what the graduate program has to offer, but has also excelled in and out of the classroom thanks in part to the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation.

Nichols, a Ph.D. student from Abingdon, Virginia, is a member of the inaugural class of Virginia Tech Stamps Scholars, a cohort of top students who receive support from the Stamps Foundation. More than $2.25 million in donations support the fund, which provides full tuition, a stipend, and access to an additional enrichment fund for activities such as conferences, research, and travel.

The Path to Regenerative Medicine

Anne Nichols in the lab

Nichols did not take a direct path to regenerative medicine research. Although she started as a biology major at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Nichols transferred her major and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in studio art. However, she took all of the chemistry and biology courses required of a biology student and, after graduation, worked in a pharmacology laboratory at the University of Virginia. Ultimately, Nichols decided that she wanted to pursue a translational field of study.

Nichols found her way to Blacksburg after her husband received an opportunity in the area and the couple decided to move. Nichols began working with Linda Dahlgren, associate professor of large animal surgery in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, and was introduced to the veterinary college’s graduate programs.

“When I first came, it was the very beginning of the Regenerative Medicine IGEP (Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program),” said Nichols. “They were recruiting for the first class of students, and I thought that it sounded really interesting.”

A Well-rounded Scholar

After she was accepted into the program in the fall of 2012, Nichols continued her research in Dahlgren’s lab. The lab focuses on musculoskeletal regeneration and repair. “I work on tendon and ligament and am really interested in a process called mechanotransduction, which is how cells sense physical forces and then turn those into some sort of meaningful response,” she explained.

Nichols would like to continue with her research, which combines tissue engineering and basic biology, post-graduation. “I’ve realized since I got into the field that there’s still a whole lot that’s not known, and that’s really exciting,” she said.

Nichols has also used her Stamps scholarship to benefit other graduate students. Last spring, she and Miranda Vieson, former BMVS Ph.D. candidate and Stamps Scholar, used some of these funds to host a graduate career seminar session. “It was really successful and we hope to continue it in some form in the future,” said Nichols, who also enjoys hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and camping with her husband and their two dogs.

Anne Nichols with Stamps scholars and Randy McDow
Stamps Foundation scholarship students (left to right) Kaylyn Williams, Cat Cowan, Anne Nichols, and Kelly Freudenberger with Randy McDow, executive director of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation.

Service and Beyond

Nichols and the college’s other Stamps Scholars participated in the first Stamps national Day of Service in April 2016 by partnering with Giles Animal Rescue and arranging a supply drive to collect items such as litter, food, bedding, and collars to donate.

Anne Nichols at a service event
Stamps Scholars participated in the first Stamps national Day of Service in
spring 2016 through an animal supply drive for Giles Animal Rescue.

In addition, Nichols has used the enrichment fund to travel to two conferences and to complete a short course in bioinformatics. “Anytime you do stuff like that, you can literally write Mr. and Mrs. Stamps, founders, a postcard from wherever you are, and they’re so excited to see what you’ve done and what you’re doing,” said Nichols, who described the founder’s support and enthusiasm as one of the main benefits of the foundation. “That’s been the best part about it.”

Nichols, who is also a member of the Graduate Student Assembly, would ideally like to complete a post-doc after graduating but is also considering a career in industry. “Right now, I’m kind of open to any opportunities that might come my way,” said Nichols.

When she is not fulfilling her duties as a graduate student and Stamps Scholar, Nichols enjoys hiking, kayaking, backpacking, and camping with her husband and their two dogs.