Research experience in PMI lab helps NAU senior prepare for nursing career

Karisma Kocos

Karisma Kocos works with biohazardous materials in the lab at the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI). She knows how to be safe—by wearing the required protective gear and using the lab equipment according to protocol—but she considers her specialty to be training others on how to work properly in that environment.

Attention to detail, working in difficult areas and working with people will suit Kocos well in her chosen field of nursing.

Kocos, who is majoring in biomedical science and minoring in chemistry, will graduate from Northern Arizona University in May. After that, she hopes to be accepted into NAU’s accelerated nursing program, which would allow her to finish her nursing degree in a year.

Kocos started with PMI her freshman year working on administrative tasks and was later promoted to a lab position, working for Regents’ Professor Paul Keim’s group. Because of the range of knowledge she’s gained in that position, Kocos is capable of helping several research groups within PMI when they need assistance, which has enabled her to gain experience with not only microbiology research but genetics research as well.

“It’s kind of a huge mash-up of everything, and it’s been really neat,” she said.

Working with the bacteria Burkholderia, which causes deadly diseases such as melioidosis and glanders, was of special interest to Kocos. She worked with the Keim research team to investigate the mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, using microdilution experiments to test different concentrations of 24 different antibiotics and their effectiveness fighting Burkholderia. The team was interested to find that the bacteria were more resistant than previously thought.

“The antibiotics that we’re currently using in the clinic are not as effective anymore,” she said. “The bacteria have gained this resistance.”

Kocos credits her supervisors, research specialist Kimberly Celona and research project coordinator Heidie Hornstra O’Neill, for pushing her to grow as a leader in the lab.

“Even when I think I’ve done the most that I can do, they ask me, what more can you do? How can you expand on that?” Kocos said.

Celona said Kocos’ work, and work ethic, in the lab would serve her well as she pursued a career as a nurse.

“One of the most important, demanding and ultimately character-shaping research projects Karisma contributed to was the collection of antimicrobial resistance data for over 250 strains of Burkholderia species,” Celona said. “She was an integral part of a large team of undergraduates and staff tasked with completing the work and it required her to have a high level of communication, adaptation and dedication. Her contribution was so outstanding that she was asked to lead a separate component of the project.”

Kocos agreed, adding that she also benefited from the collaborative and helpful environment at PMI and was surprised by how many resources were available to her.

“Along with developing scientific skills, PMI tries to help our undergraduate researchers improve on their leadership skills,” O’Neill said. “Karisma has really excelled in both areas and was recently promoted to PMI’s head undergraduate position, where she is responsible for the coordination and communication of all laboratory matters from the Lab Management Team to more than 30 undergraduate researchers at PMI.”

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