Andrea Pecora '23

UNH snare drummer prepares for career searching for life in the universe
UNH student Andrea Pecora

Andrea Pecora is a biomedical science: medical laboratory science major and classics minor from Bradford, Pa. Her last name “pecora” means sheep in English, but a sheep, a word sometimes used to denote a follower or conformist, could not be further from describing Andrea.

A proud snare drummer in the UNH Wildcat Marching Band, Andrea recently received a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) to analyze the effects of rock surface composition on bacterial biofilm formation in Professor Lou Tisa’s lab. The work stems from her interest in astrobiology, which she describes as a relatively new interdisciplinary field focused on the understanding of the origin of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

COLSA: Why did you choose UNH?

Andrea Pecora: I was drawn to UNH for the programs and opportunities it offered: internships for my major, endless ways to get involved in research, accredited programs and a beautiful campus no matter the season.

However, because I was coming to UNH from a smaller high school, I was a bit nervous. Would I be able to learn in a lecture hall environment? Would I be able to connect with professors with so much going on? These questions were quickly answered when I attended admitted students visit day and had the chance to meet my future classmates and the professors I'd be spending the next 4 years learning from. Being able to talk one-on-one with them made me see how much the faculty in my department cared about supporting us as unsure underclassmen.

Also, another reason I came to UNH was the marching band! I was in a competitive marching band in high school and knew that I wanted to continue drumming in college.

COLSA: What's your major and what makes it so interesting to you?

Andrea: My major is biomedical science: medical laboratory science (BMS:MLS). With my option, there is an incredible amount of freedom with what you can do. If you decide to go for a clinical internship senior year and become a certified Medical Laboratory Scientist (MLS) through the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP), your course load is much less customizable, but that is mostly because you are completing prerequisites for the internship. Outside of going for the MLS certification, students in my major have gone on to attend medical and physician's assistant school as well as pursue graduate and/or Ph.D. degrees.

And while the dynamic nature of my program is what drew me to it, the hands-on skills I learned kept me around. As a BMS:MLS major, you will spend countless hours in the labs looking through microscopes at blood smears, stained bacteria, urine (sometimes your own - thanks body fluids!) and fungi collected from your own dorm (gross). You'll learn techniques for proper specimen collection and handling as well as how to physically carry out both screening and confirmatory testing for a plethora of diseases. Overall, this program is so interesting because of how wide the breadth of our study is. There's always something new to learn, which is wonderful for curious minds.

COLSA: During your time at UNH, what are you most proud of?

Andrea: Other than receiving a SURF grant (one of the proudest moments so far), I'd have to go with making the snare line in the UNH Wildcat Marching Band. As a freshman, I came in playing bass drum, but I wanted to go further.

The next year as a sophomore, I auditioned for snare but didn't quite make the cut. I enjoyed my time on bass that season and learned a lot about myself and the value of dedication and hard work, and it lit a fire in me to refine my snare playing. So, I took action to get better: I got in contact with the drumline instructor, took lessons and practiced in between every lecture and homework assignment. By my junior year, I had become a strong enough player to audition for snare and make it! It's still one of my greatest sources of pride to zip up my uniform, put on my drum, and bring music to different events around UNH.

COLSA: What are you planning to do after graduation?

Andrea: I plan to go to graduate school after graduation, studying microbiology or a similar field, and want to be involved in research that can be applied to the field of astrobiology — a relatively new interdisciplinary field focused on the understanding of the origin of life on Earth and the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

I hope to travel a decent amount for research or for leisure. I'd love to see the hot springs in Yellowstone and visit some glaciers, as well as visit select areas and museums around the Mediterranean that I learned about during my Classics minor (I took courses that focused mostly on Mediterranean history).

COLSA: How is UNH preparing you to achieve your goals?

Andrea: UNH has given me the tools needed to build a solid foundation. While the core classes were incredibly difficult (especially when they were online), they forced me to re-evaluate my studying strategies and become a more dynamic student.

After this solid base of knowledge was built, I was able to reach out to research faculty and see if anyone was doing research that would apply to my future goals of studying microbiology in a way that could apply to astrobiology. I was incredibly fortunate to find the Tisa lab, and through my experience there I have had the opportunity to be involved in research on rock-dwelling and biofilm-forming microbes.

I have applied for and received SURF funding, which has given me the opportunity to put together an independent research project. This project is preparing me for a future in research and providing a steppingstone toward contributing to the field of astrobiology. Specifically, I want to further study extremophiles, which are microbes that can survive harsh conditions such as arid desert sands or frozen arctic soils. This could be applied to research on how microbial life may have looked during the turbulent days ancient Earth or even the search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars. Because the field is so interdisciplinary, having the opportunity to select classes across a variety of scientific subjects has been immensely beneficial.

Overall, UNH has provided me with the resources and support needed to ensure I could become the most capable version of myself.

COLSA: What do you love most about UNH?

Andrea: Two things: the family I have found here, and the beautiful backdrop that I've had the privilege to call home for the past 3 years. UNH's campus is absolutely stunning in every season. Arriving for the year in August the campus is incredibly green, and you get to watch as the leaves change into a kaleidoscope of colors. The first snow of the season is always a celebration, with people building ramps on library hill to sled down while the T-Hall bells play music. In the spring, watching the gray trees turn into bursts of flowers and the smell of lilacs in the air (which makes me sneeze, but is so worth it) breathes energy back into the campus after a long hard winter.

And to top it all off, I get to experience and explore this picturesque campus with the closest friends I have ever had. It's cliche but joining the marching band my freshman year brought me lifelong friends who are all incredibly trustworthy, fun-loving, dynamic, talented, smart, and of course irreplaceable. With them, I have made memories that I will cherish forever, and I cannot wait to see all of us flourish and visit each other, wherever in the world we end up.