Janelle Doyle, biology student from Cal State San Bernardino, has been named the recipient of the Professor Richard Fehn Memorial Scholarship.

“Janelle is highly talented, intelligent and deeply interested in science, and all this has contributed to her success,” said Mike Chao, CSUSB biology department chair. “But a great deal of her success can also be attributed to her hard work, her tenacity and her determination.”

Doyle, who has a 3.8 GPA and who will graduate this June, was honored as the Fehn scholarship recipient at an award ceremony on April 6, where Chao and Peter Williams, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences, presented her with a certificate.

Education has always been rooted in Doyle, as her mother and grandmother, who are both immigrants from Guatemala, returned to school when Doyle was a child.

“Watching them continue to persevere through things that were really difficult for them, and just watching them show me — legitimately show me — how important education is to them, has been a huge influence,” Doyle said.

When she graduates, Doyle will join her mother and brother as a CSUSB alumna, but will be the first in her family to join the sciences. The San Bernardino native originally wanted to get into the medical field and thought a biology major was the first way to get her foot in the door. It wasn’t until she met Tomasz Owerkowicz, CSUSB associate professor of biology, when she realized just how passionate she was for the subject.

“It wasn’t really until I joined his lab that I think I fell in love with biology in general,” Doyle said. “Because before that, it was more of a means to an end for me … I got into his lab and I discovered what you can do with research, and just how much independence and how much creativity you can have in research, and then within that, I found the specific niche of biology that I was interested in, which specifically for me, is neuroscience.”

“She has been active in the weekly neurobiology journal club run by my colleague, Dr. Mike Chao,” said Owerkowicz. “Last summer, she completed an internship at Stanford, and came back convinced she has found her research niche. Based on her enthusiasm, I believe she is committed to the field and academic career.”

Besides her prestigious internship at Stanford, which she was able to do through the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program at CSUSB, Doyle also presented with a group of students in New Orleans for the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology annual meeting in summer 2017, and conducted research at the University of Virginia in summer 2016.

Since 2014, Doyle has been helping Owerkowicz in his animal care lab at CSUSB. She eventually became the laboratory animal facility manager, where she was in charge of 12 undergraduate volunteers. She coordinated CITI training in animal ethics, scheduled weekly husbandry duties and monitored animal care.

“Since 2016, Janelle has been invaluable in helping to run my colony of 600 alligators,” Owerkowicz said, “I would not have entrusted Janelle with this task if I didn’t think highly of her team leader skills.”

Doyle describes her experience working with the alligators as difficult, yet interesting and fun.

“It’s really hard to optimize sometimes with animals because they are so variable,” Doyle said. “So it’s been difficult in that aspect, but I think, in a way, that’s been a huge benefit for me to experience the trials of doing animal work, specifically with these gators, because it’s prepared me for other research, regardless of whether or not it’s with animals, because all research comes with their source of trials.”

Doyle’s first project with the species was done in summer 2015 through the Office of Student Research, where she studied musculoskeletal development in the American alligator following removal of the eggshell during incubation. Then in 2016, for an undergraduate research project, she studied the effects of caudofemoralis longus tentomy on terrestrial locomotion in the American alligator.

Although she is no longer the lab manager — since she is currently interning at the University of California, Irvine, working on stem cells through the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) program — she continues to help Owerkowicz in his lab, who she credits as the one who first got her into biology.

“He was the first person to give me the opportunity to start research. I would absolutely not be where I am without his guidance, his encouragement, his knowledge,” she said. “I have learned a lot from him … He’s always pushing me to excel. He expects a lot out of me, which can be tough sometimes, but in the end, it’s only ever benefitted me.”

While Doyle credits Owerkowicz for helping her get into biology, she credits Chao for helping her discover neuroscience.

“I’ve had a lot of really amazing opportunities just by being here,” Doyle said, “and by having such easy access to the faculty and being able to form really close relationships with them … I couldn’t have done any of this without the support of the faculty members here.”

“The best students I've had the pleasure of working with have always been the ones that push their professors, and she is certainly one of those,” Chao said. “I'm really excited to find out where she will be in a few years as she moves on to the next stage of her life and career.”

Not only did her mentors encourage her to apply for the Fehn scholarship, but Doyle was also inspired to apply when she saw last year’s recipient, Sarah Ruddle, receive the award at the biology seminar last year. 

“I just remember being so impressed,” Doyle said. She recalls hoping to be the next recipient of the Fehn scholarship, which was created to help meet the cost of education for CSUSB biology students who have demonstrated a commitment to biological research and to pay tribute to Fehn, a CSUSB alumnus, and his work.

Fehn, who died in 2007, was known as a caring and dedicated instructor, and for his passion for teaching and his commitment to student research. He mentored at least 87 undergraduate and graduate students and he continued to mentor those graduates as they pursued their research, published their work and moved into fellowship positions in their fields. He also served as chair of the biology department and was named CSUSB’s Outstanding Professor in 2004.

Fehn graduated from CSUSB with a bachelor’s degree in 1974 and a master’s degree in 1978, both in biology. He received his doctorate degree in animal physiology from the University of Arizona.

Besides the Professor Richard Fehn Memorial Scholarship, Doyle is the recipient of several other awards and grants, including the Faculty and Student Research Grant; the Bridges to Stem Cell Research Award; the Maximizing Access to Research Careers Award; a research assistantship for the CSUSB biology department; the Student Research and Travel Grant; the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities 28th Annual Conference Travel Award; and the President’s Academic Excellence Scholarship, which is awarded to San Bernardino County high school seniors who graduate in the top 1 percent of their class.

Although Doyle hasn’t chosen a school yet, she knows she wants to get her doctorate in neuroscience. After graduation, she hopes to get involved with science policy, whether working with a nonprofit or with a congressman, and may even consider starting her own laboratory at a university.

For more information about the Professor Richard Fehn Memorial Scholarship, visit the Department of Biology’s website.

For more information about California State University San Bernardino, contact the Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit inside.csusb.edu.