Jacquelyn Awigena-Cook and Brianna Bolorin picture together in a lab, both smile as Brianna holds a tray of amber glass neck vials

Photo: Emily Paine

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The generous support of Jacquelyn Awigena-Cook ’05 has allowed Brianna Bolorin ’24 to conduct chemistry research on campus over the past two summers.

Learning from Experience

An alumna-funded research opportunity allows Bucknellians to make important life-shaping discoveries

by Kate Williard

photography by Emily Paine


nyone who has ever set foot in a Bucknell lab has seen real-world research in action, brimming with potential to make important breakthroughs. And for many student researchers, it’s a decisive experience that influences their career path.

Jacquelyn Awigena-Cook ’05 had one of those defining experiences after spending a summer assisting Professor Marie Pizzorno, biology. “I liked the work,” says the cell biology/biochemistry major. “But it made me realize I didn’t want to be in a lab every day.”

With support from Pizzorno, Awigena-Cook made an adjustment. She pivoted away from a research-focused path and instead pursued a master’s degree in biomedicine, bioscience and society at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She now serves as the director of global regulatory policy & intelligence at Bristol Myers Squibb, where she balances medical innovation with consideration for its social, ethical and economic impact. “My background allows me to understand the high-level concepts of these new medicines,” she says.

Despite veering away from research, Awigena-Cook doesn’t discount the value of her time in the lab. Quite the contrary: “Without that experience, I wouldn’t have known to take a different direction,” she says. That discovery proved so valuable to Awigena-Cook, it inspired her to create a summer research fund so other Bucknellians can gain the same exposure to lab work.

Thanks to Awigena-Cook’s support, Brianna Bolorin ’24, cell biology/biochemistry, has spent two summers in the lab of Professor Sarah Smith, chemistry. She’s researching a protein found in the parasite that causes leishmaniasis, a debilitating disease carried by sandflies in tropic and subtropic climates.

Smith and her student researchers are on track to submit their research for publication in 2024. Bolorin will likely be the lead author. Counter to Awigena-Cook’s experience, Bolorin has found her home — and her future — in the lab. “I love being in a research lab,” she says. “It solidified my plans of staying in science.”

Awigena-Cook visited Smith’s lab to see her giving in action in summer 2023. She listened thoughtfully and asked specific questions related to the research and process. “It’s small — what I do,” she says. “But I feel great joy in being able to help students have this experience. Without it, I know I would have had a much longer journey to find the work that fulfills me.”