McNair Experience

Daniela Ortiz's McNair Research Experience

Daniela Ortiz (genetics) started her research with Dr. Jeff Essner, Department of Genetics, Development and Cell Biology, after enjoying a class and observing Dr. Essner’s mentoring style. When she began McNair, she knew she’d like to have Dr. Essner as her faculty mentor. After doing research for about three months, Daniela was able to find her stride in the type of research she enjoys. “I really liked what other people were doing, which was [working] with cell communication, and I liked that type of stuff better because you would [see] that these other students would make mutations with their fishes, and they would have like, all their organs rearranged. And I thought that was cool.”

Daniela has worked for over a year with Dr. Essner, her project is focused on a gene called Connexin for cell communication. Daniela explained she dissects fish embryos and examines the Kupffer’s Vesicle. Daniela described her tasks include, “I label it with different antibodies, and I look at different fish mutations… [to] see how it's affected and how that affects the fish’s development linger… If they reach full development… die off eventually or if their body looks different from other fishes’.”

Looking forward to her future in graduate school, she reflects on the skills she has gained throughout this research process. “I feel more confident talking about scientific stuff. In general, I feel more confident being able to be like, Oh, is this this problem? Is this developmental?” and “The way I analyze things has changed a lot. The way I talk to people and present myself has been really different because I feel more in touch with myself… I'm not scared to say things.”

Each McNair Scholar selects a faculty mentor based on their matched research interests. The Scholar works on research for the duration of their time in McNair and presents the project three to four times at on-campus symposia and national conferences.

Daniela Ortiz - 2020 Cohort

Research with McNair
The overall purpose of the McNair Program is to prepare 30 carefully selected undergraduate juniors for
graduate study by matching each with a faculty mentor to begin and complete a required research
The research objective is accomplished through the required faculty-mentored research project and as
the focus in the required McNair courses, U ST 301 and U ST 302. All Scholars participate in research and
other scholarly activities that directly impact their educational progression per:

  • A structured research project conducted under the guidance of an appropriate faculty member with experience in the discipline selected by the McNair participant. Scholars complete the faculty-led research project throughout their program participation.
  • The different components of the research process are taught in each of the four required McNair classes. In the first year, Scholars complete a year-long in-class, team-based research project focused on a social science topic.


Research Presentation Experiences
By the time a Scholar graduates from the McNair Program, they will have presented their research a
minimum of 3-4 times. Some presentation opportunities include:

  • Poster presentations at our Annual McNair Symposium in April.
  • Oral presentations at a National McNair Conference or national undergraduate-focused conference, and at the campus-based Symposium on Undergraduate Research in April.
  • Discipline or field-specific conferences with their faculty mentor.