Gaven Bell’s extensive involvement within the NC State community began even before she stepped on campus as a freshman, as she participated in research with Dr. David Tarpy in the NCSU Apiculture Lab during her senior year in high school. Now only one year away from graduation, Gaven reflects on her time at NC State including writing the award-winning play “A Case of Salt” for the NC State Theatre, having mentors and role models in the STEM field who are women, and her vast involvement within the Goodnight Scholars Program.
Goodnight Scholars Program: Tell us about yourself!
Gaven Bell ’23: Hello everyone! I am a junior from Asheville, NC. I am majoring in biological sciences with a concentration in integrative physiology and neurobiology with minors in science communication and theater. My favorite color is green and I am a huge dog person (cats are cool, but can they go on hikes with you and give you hugs?). Within the Goodnight Scholars Program I have served as a STEM Coach, mentor, and second-year retreat leader. I am also part of the University Scholars Program, an undergraduate research assistant, a College of Sciences Ambassador, Co-President of the Biology Club at NC State, Co-President of NC State’s chapter of Alpha Psi Omega, and I am very involved with University Theater.
During your time at NC State, you have been involved in several research projects and opportunities. Can you tell us about those experiences and what you learned?
Certainly! My first experience with undergraduate research at NC State was actually as a senior in high school. Through my school’s mentorship program I was able to work with Dr. David Tarpy in the NCSU Apiculture Lab here on campus, and I was able to continue my research when I started here as a freshman. I assisted with two different research projects, both focusing on entomology (specifically apiculture, the study of honeybees) and genetics. The first project I assisted with investigated how mating frequency influences genetic diversity of honey bees in the Hawaiian Islands. My second project investigated how genetic differences between worker honey bees and a newly introduced queen impact the colony’s behavior towards the queen. This second project more closely aligns with my primary research interest in the connections between genetics, psychology, and neuroscience and how these areas influence behavior.
This interest led me to the Lucas Lab at NC State. Research shows that there is a higher prevalence of affective disorders (like anxiety and depression) in women than men. This suggests a biological sex difference that influences the acquisition and maintenance of an aversive memory and highlights the need for a better understanding of how sex differences in the brain influence the acquisition and maintenance of fear memory and their influences on behavior. And that is what research in the Lucas Lab focuses on! My research investigates how the estrous cycle (the mouse reproductive cycle) and biological sex differences influence mice’s responses to threat conditioning by analyzing neuronal activity in the mouse amygdala.
Technical skills and field specific knowledge aside, I have learned lots of valuable information and lessons from both of these experiences. One of the most important things that I have learned is how valuable patience, adaptability, and flexibility are in research. Nothing will go right on your first try or perfectly as planned (if it did it wouldn’t be science), and that’s ok. What is important is that you learn from that, readjust, and move forward. The most valuable thing I have learned, however, is that research is not the best fit for me long term, so I am currently in the process of pivoting towards a career in science communication.
You are an active member within the NC State Theater community. You recently wrote an award winning play, “A Case of Salt,” that was performed at NC State, and many Goodnight Scholars attended! Can you tell us about the premise of the play and your experience in general with NC State Theater?
Simply put, “A Case of Salt” is a play about finding identity and connection, specifically in relation to disability. It follows a group of high school students as they rehearse a play they wrote for an upcoming theatre festival. The scenes take place in both the real world and the world of the play, and through this the characters learn about themselves and each other. If you are interested in learning more about “A Case of Salt” check out this interview I did: https://news.dasa.ncsu.edu/a-case-of salt/#:~:text=Simply%20put%2C%20A%20Case%20of,for%20an%20upcoming%20theatre%20festival.
I have had an amazing experience with University Theatre (UT). Most schools with theatre departments have a theatre major, and if you’re not a major it is very hard to get involved. UT is unique because NC State doesn’t have a theatre major, which means that the students involved in the department come from a large diversity of majors and backgrounds and everyone is volunteering their time towards productions because they love theatre. I started in UT the fall of my freshman year (2019) when I played Emma in Fefu and Her Friends by María Irene Fornés and then basically never left. I am also currently the Co-President of the Psi Kappa Cast of Alpha Psi Omega, NC State’s chapter of the national theater honor society.
What does it mean to you to be a woman in the STEM field? From your experience both in STEM and theater, what changes do you hope to see in the STEM and theater fields when it comes to representation?
I grew up with many mentors and role models in STEM fields who were women, and was fortunate to never feel out of place in my interests. I reference this because as early as elementary school, children form strong opinions about STEM and whether or not they like it. I can say confidently that my interest in STEM today was largely shaped by my early experiences with science and seeing women in STEM represented in the media I was consuming. I think this is a large reason why I have never felt out of place in a science classroom, club, or lab. In fact- my current research lab is currently all women! Collaborating with such a great team of intelligent and funny women has been awesome. Unfortunately, many women do not have the same experience. I hope that moving forward we can see more inclusion and representation of women in STEM (especially in non health-care and life sciences fields).
Developing a diverse workforce, especially in STEM fields, is significant because it increases the representation of underrepresented communities in research and includes them in the discussions and research that connect to problems that they are facing. While there is still much to be improved, I already see more women represented in STEM now than I did growing up which is awesome. That said, one part of my identity that is also underrepresented in STEM receives much less attention: people with disabilities. As a disabled student, I see a severe lack of role models with backgrounds similar to mine in STEM, and an abundance of ableist dialogue in both academic and general conversations in my fields of interest. Unfortunately, this is an issue that extends beyond STEM.
My dream would be for discussions of diversity and inclusion in STEM to be unnecessary. I see my interest and abilities in theatre, particularly as playwright, as a way to make this dream a reality. Seeing diverse actors and stories in all kinds of media achieves two great things. First, it normalizes underrepresented people in those spaces and helps people better understand others and their backgrounds. Second, it shows people from those underrepresented backgrounds that there is a seat for them at those tables. A great example of a movie that is doing this and sparking many great conversations is CODA, (which is in the running for Best Picture at the Oscars this year) and I cannot gush enough about it. I hope to continue increasing representation and sparking conversations as a science communicator and theatre artist.
You are heavily involved within the Goodnight Scholars Program. What have been your favorite aspects within the program, and what would your advice be to an incoming Class of 2026 Goodnight Scholar?
My favorite part of the Goodnight Scholars Program is the community. The scholars and pro-staff are so incredible, supportive, interesting, compassionate, intelligent, and hilarious and I love being a part of it all. When I chose to attend NC State, I was worried about how large the school is. Luckily, the community within this program makes a ginormous school feel much more manageable.
Another favorite aspect is all of the opportunities and resources available to Goodnight Scholars- everything from professional development workshops to cultural excursions. I feel that every aspect of my experience at NC State is supported by the program. My advice to an incoming scholar is to try to take advantage of as many opportunities as you can. The Goodnight Scholars Program is an incredible resource- use it! Make friends, make connections, attend a diverse array of programming, and apply for trips and leadership positions!
What is one experience you want to have at NC State before you graduate?
I would love to go on a Spring Break or Mayventure trip with other Goodnights. I had an amazing time in Boston with a group of Goodnight Scholars this past Fall Break, and I would love to be able to participate in a longer trip. I only have one year left so hopefully I can make it happen!
Do you plan on continuing with your love of theater even once graduating from NC State?
Yes! My current plan is to pursue a science communication career, but to stay involved with theatre as my primary hobby. One of the nice things about playwriting is that you can do it anywhere and on your own schedule, so I can definitely at least continue with that. I would love to do more acting and technical work as well, but we’ll see how manageable that is with my job!