Even though he’s the student-body president and the homecoming king, Zach McAdams ’20 doesn’t consider himself the “big man on campus.”
“Coming into college, I really didn’t know what I want to do with my life,” he says. “I came in to college pretty introverted and not wanting to really get involved on campus, and I think after I established myself within that first organization or two, I kind of found my niche.”
That niche is loosely defined as doing everything. Besides running the Student Government Association, McAdams is a student ambassador, a science tutor, and is a member of the Honors Student Association and Science Club.
McAdams grew up about 45 minutes north of Columbia, in Cairo, Missouri, which is north of Moberly. He was valedictorian of his class of fewer than 40 students at Northeast R-IV high school, and because he felt that helped him excel in his studies, was looking for a similarly small environment in college.
“Coming from town of 200, Columbia seemed huge to me, so it was a nice change to have that large-town experience while still being at a small college,” McAdams says.
He intended to major in nursing, but as he was working through the lab-based courses for his prerequisites, McAdams realized that he enjoyed the lab enough to change his major. At first he switched to biology, then once the college offered a biochemistry major, he migrated there. “It’s been a really great opportunity, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing it,” he says.
McAdams has flourished in the lab. He assists Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kent Strodtman with research, as well as conducting his own: McAdams is currently is working to create a gene knockout in the soybean-soil symbiont Bradyrhizobium diazoefficiens. According to Strodtman, this work will help to determine the function of the gene product and whether it affects the ability of the bacterium to infect soybeans.
“Zach has been an excellent student in both the classroom and my research group,” Strodtman says. “He is outstanding in the laboratory with the ability to troubleshoot experiments and have a strong grasp of what the goal of each step in the experimental process requires. I cannot say enough good things about what he has accomplished in his time at Columbia College.”
This past summer, McAdams earned valuable experience at the University of Tennessee interning in a program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, called Research Experience for Undergraduates. He spent 10 weeks in Knoxville working alongside a graduate student in the Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering Department. The duo collaborated on a project focused on incorporating nanoparticles into biomimetic membranes; the goal was to understand how nanoparticles cross a cell membrane and how that affected the electrical properties of that membrane.
McAdams said his work this summer was nothing he’d ever studied or done, “which was kind of terrifying on day one, but it was a fun crash course in biomedical engineering with a bit of electrical engineering mixed in.” The program’s participants also enjoyed side trips to the Smoky Mountains, Oak Ridge National Lab and its nuclear reactor, and the Volunteers’ Saturday cathedral, Neyland Stadium.
Because of the differences between engineering and biochemistry, it’s possible McAdams might never use the techniques he learned this summer again, yet he’s grateful for the experience. “It exposed me to what research is like at a large university, and it is definitely one of the experiences that has pushed me to continue my education at the graduate level,” he says.
While his research didn’t directly correlate with his work here at Columbia College, McAdams says it still has made an impact. “I became more open in my problem solving. When something doesn’t work, I can go back to the beginning and learn which piece of the process failed and how that affected the end result,” he says.
McAdams isn’t certain where his path will go next, though he’s leaning toward working toward a doctoral program in biochemistry or plant science at the University of Missouri next year. Yet it’s clear he’ll continue to work within his niche.
“I love being involved, being able to work with a variety of clubs and organizations, a variety of people from different majors and different backgrounds,” he says. “It’s been a great learning experience, and I’ve been able to meet a lot of really interesting people.”
McAdams earned a full-ride scholarship to attend Columbia College, and is grateful for the opportunities he’s been afforded from it. “Winning my scholarship and the opportunity to study at a school like this at no cost to me or my family is truly a blessing, and I honestly cannot describe how thankful I am,” he says. “My scholarship has been a large motivation for me to be involved and to give back to the campus in any way that I can. I was given the gift of not having to worry about finances during college which has allowed me to put more time and effort into organizations, volunteering, and studies.”
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