Katelyn Amero: UMaine 2024 Salutatorian

Katelyn Amero of Mapleton, Maine, is the 2024 salutatorian. She is an Honors College student double-majoring in biochemistry and microbiology. A young girl’s curiosity to identify the animals in her backyard bloomed into Amero’s determination to find and analyze new facets of science and biology. She works steadily in the laboratory and showcases genuine interest in what research may reveal about the natural world, firmly following the philosophy that scientists learn from their mistakes and the unexpected results. 

Although Amero has always been interested in biology, she discovered her passion for the field of infectious diseases while conducting research in a first-year introductory course studying antibiotic-resistant bacteria. She presented this research at three symposiums and now serves as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the course. As she entered her second year, she contributed to faculty research and was listed as a co-author on a recent publication in G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. She continued research with infectious bacteria by participating in an internship at Yale University the following summer, later applying what she learned to her honors thesis, titled “The Effect of Prophages on Mycobacterial Intracellular Survival in Macrophages.” Adept at applying her research and knowledge to relevant world issues, her thesis will be published in a professional journal and she has presented her work at local, state and national conferences. She is a Maine Top Scholar and recipient of the prestigious Barry Goldwater Scholarship, established by the U.S. Congress to support research careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.

Through her resolve to absorb as much information, resources and perspectives as was offered to her, Amero maintained a perfect GPA. She worked to balance intellectual interests with her service to the community and mentorship to fellow undergraduates. She is an active member and leader of the medically based service club Operation H.E.A.R.T.S, and she also contributes to the Undergraduate Women in STEMM club on campus. Despite her role as president of Operation H.E.A.R.T.S., she upholds that casual conversations and day-to-day peer support are valuable ways to lead that don’t require a position of power.

Amero was accepted into the University of Pennsylvania, where she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in their Microbiology, Virology and Parasitology program within the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate Group.

How have you challenged yourself in the classroom? And what motivated you to maintain a perfect GPA? 
It wasn’t exactly my intention to achieve a 4.0 GPA, but I was definitely more motivated to

maintain it after completing my first two years of coursework and finding a research area in which I’m passionate. I think what consistently motivated me was a genuine interest and curiosity about how the natural world works on both the biological and social level. 

The content I learned in the classroom was always relevant to real-world issues, whether that involved reading ancient texts about human nature through the honors civilizations courses, or understanding the role of DNA and proteins in human health through biochemistry and molecular biology courses. I understood the applications of what I was learning, which motivated me to make the most of the content, resources and perspectives offered to me. I definitely challenged myself with absorbing as much as possible in the classroom, but the greater and more important challenge was fully pursuing academic interests without neglecting self care, relationships and community involvement.

What encourages your patient discipline inside the lab?
I wouldn’t consider myself to be the most patient person, but I definitely practice and preach the philosophy that science is all about learning from mistakes and unexpected results. It can be frustrating when something doesn’t go your way in the lab, but it’s relieving to know that things are supposed to go wrong and that there is room for making mistakes. Understanding the implications and potential impacts of my research on healthcare also motivates me to be thorough and persistent both in and outside of the lab.

When did you first become interested in studying bacteria? And where do you hope to take this area of study? 
My first introduction to research was also my first introduction to microbiology. This was during the SEA-PHAGES course where first-year students isolate novel bacteriophages (bacterial viruses) to better understand and treat antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections. I took this course online during the pandemic, but I was struck by the severity of antibiotic resistance as a global health threat. It quickly became clear to me that I wanted to study infectious diseases. 

Through my coursework and research experiences, I’ve come to appreciate how microbes influence human health and the environment, how useful they are as research tools and how much they can teach us about basic biology and evolution. I want to pursue a research career studying microbes so I can help treat superbugs and prevent the next pandemic. 

What do you think your description as a “quiet leader” by faculty entails? And what are the benefits of it?
Being a “quiet leader” entails making small but consistent contributions to your community and not requiring a position of power to be a leader. I’m from rural Maine and was a Girl Scout, so I grew up learning the importance of community and service. As a woman entering the STEM field, I’ve learned the value of accessibility, collaboration and mentorship in the scientific community. 

I think that I could be considered a “quiet leader” because most of the contributions I’ve made to my community over the last few years have been behind the scenes, rather than on a platform. I’ve made it a point to remain involved in local community service in Maine through Operation H.E.A.R.T.S., and I always try to offer my support and advice to my peers in science through casual hallway conversations or specialized club activities. It’s important to simply invest your time in others and share your experiences, something that anyone can do at any time.

Why does learning new things about the world, biology and science appeal to you? 
Growing up in rural Maine shaped my appreciation for nature and my desire for contributing to something larger than myself. I always loved to play outside and learn about the animals I could find in my backyard, and this translated into a passion for biology and scientific discovery. I also wanted my career to involve problem solving and helping others, and I’ve learned that studying the natural world is key to solving many major problems that face humanity. Life is what makes the world interesting and unique. Understanding how life works can reveal solutions to life’s problems. I truly think biology is the most beautiful, exciting field and is critical to study now more than ever before.

Contact: Ashley Yates, ashley.depew@maine.edu