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VA research becomes infectious for C of I grad

At 19 years of age, Alabama native Pamela Dockstader ’16 signed up for the United States Army. Over the course of six years repairing armament on M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley tanks and serving two tours in Afghanistan, Dockstader fell in love with the military. And while transitioning to civilian life and attending The College of Idaho, she discovered a love of microbiology.

Today, she’s found a way to combine her two passions.

Dockstader became the first person ever awarded the PAVER (Partnership to Advance Veteran’s Education in Research) Fellowship at the Boise Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“I completed an internship at the VA in the pathology lab back in 2014, so I already knew this was a pretty good place to try to get into,” Dockstader said. “I’m a veteran, so I want to stay within the veteran community.”

She’s spent her summer researching a staph bacteria that has become resistant to most antibiotics— Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Her work is part of developing a better medication to fight this rapidly evolving foe.

“This is something that really grabbed me in micro class,” Dockstader said. “It’s scary how fast these pathogens are evolving to resist antibiotics. Researchers are in this constant race to beat them.”

Her love for microbiology began at the C of I—more specifically, in her lab classes where she could leave the textbook behind and “see science in action.” For Dockstader, no other form of science is as visible as micro. Just one look into a microscope can unearth a zoo of organisms—sometimes harmful organisms.

“It’s like a little garden that can kill you,” she said.

Her passion and work ethic became evident to her teacher, Dr. Ann Koga, who employed Dockstader as a teacher’s assistant to prepare lab materials.

“She completely reorganized the lab her first week,” Koga said. “She implemented a new system of cleaning test tubes and kept everything organized and clean throughout the semester. I am excited she has been able to pursue this research opportunity at the VA because I know how much she has been wanting to work in a microbiology lab.”

Going into her internship this summer, Dockstader wasn’t sure if she’d like it. The work seemed confusing at first, and she felt like she wasn’t keeping up. But when Dockstader plotted her first set of results on a chart, and saw it all come together, she couldn’t wait to do it again.

“I love research now,” Dockstader said. “I love the unknown, testing to see my results, and doing something no one else has done before. I love [studying] infectious disease.”

And she also loves being a Yote. Dockstader, who graduated this spring with a degree in health science, chose to attend the C of I in order to get a quality education and have a strong foundation going forward in her educational career.

“I had to be a Yote,” Dockstader said. “I wanted to graduate from C of I and that’s what I wanted my diploma to say, because they’re the best. I had such good professors and I know you can’t find that everywhere.”

Next up for Dockstader is a master’s degree in medical laboratory science. And she hopes to return to the VA, or similar setting, in a more permanent role.

“I have a big heart for the military and veterans and I just want to stay in the community because I feel like I identify more with veterans,” Dockstader said.

The College of Idaho has a 125-year-old legacy of excellence. The C of I is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, four NFL players and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom.  For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.