Carnegie Mellon University
May 12, 2023

Claire Chiang Wins 2023 K&L Gates Prize

Bonding with feathered, fluffy or scaley patients inspires graduating senior

By Kirsten Heuring

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Communications, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

When it comes to animals and research, Carnegie Mellon University senior Claire Chiang gives a hoot.

"When I imagined my future, I was solely veterinary, like I was going to work in a clinic with dogs and cats and have a great time," said Chiang, who is graduating with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences and a minor in environmental and sustainability studies. "After doing research, I realized I really enjoyed it. I'm starting to think about seeing myself as a veterinarian who pursues research."

One of the places where Chiang has cared and studied animals is Pittsburgh's National Aviary, where she worked as a veterinary hospital intern.

"I find it very rewarding to be able to get to know the patients," said Chiang, who also worked as a veterinary technician at West Liberty Animal Hospital and as an intern at for Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh. "You form a bond with them, and you're able to help them and see them get better."

At the National Aviary, Chiang helped a myriad of patients from egrets to crowned pigeons to penguins. Each species had its own quirks and personality, which Chiang would change her approach for. When an African Penguin came in to the clinic, she would make sure they saw their mates, since the species typically mates for life.

"Penguins are always a fun patient to work with because they are always so eager and love to follow you around," Chiang said. "Whenever we have a penguin patient in the hospital we always have the penguin's mate stop by every day and their interactions are always the cutest."

The concepts she learned from biological sciences apply to veterinary work.

"I took a junior biological sciences course, where we did a lot with chicken embryo development," Chiang said. "When I interned at the National Aviary, I was able to learn about caring for newly hatched eggs. It was super interesting to see a direct connection between my coursework and the aviary."

Chiang formed an interest in developmental biology research through taking Honors Modern Biology with Jonathan Minden, professor of biological sciences, Chiang works with Minden and Nolan Frey, a Ph.D. student in biological sciences, to investigate how fruit flies, Drosophila, develop as embryos. Chiang focuses on the molecular mechanisms, and she sees how ion channels in the embryos' cells respond to mechanical stress during development.

"Claire is a talented undergraduate researcher with tremendous potential," Frey said. "She is passionate about and cares for all life - be it house plants, birds, rhinos or the flies we experiment on. I expect her to excel in whatever endeavor she sets her mind to."

She also works at the Kohl lab at the University of Pittsburgh. There, Chiang studies the enzymes of rodents, seeing if they change depending on the rodents' diets. She has found that the levels of chitinase, an enzyme that breaks down specific sugars, change depending on the rodents' diets.

"Throughout this project Claire has demonstrated that she is well-versed in producing reliable and precise data," said Kevin Kohl, associate professor of biological sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. "She thinks about the underlying scientific questions she is testing in a way beyond most students at her level."

Along internships and lab work, Chiang served as a supplemental instructor (SI) for Honors Biochemistry and Honors Modern Biology, and she worked as a teaching assistant (TA) for Frontiers, Analysis and Data Science.

"Being a TA does not only involve teaching but also communicating and learning," Chiang said. "I value the skills you learn from working in a team, such as knowing when to take the lead and when to also take a step back."

Chiang also serves as president of CMU Sustainable Earth, the only campus environmental organization. There, she seeks to educate the Carnegie Mellon community on how it can be more sustainable, creating a better world for humans and animals alike.

She is a member of Carnegie Mellon's Health Professions Program, which has helped her pursue her interest in veterinary medicine.

Because of her hard work in and out of the classroom, Chiang was honored with Carnegie Mellon's K&L Gates Prize. The $5,000 award is given to one graduating student every year for inspiring their fellow students for their intellect, scholarly achievement, engagement with fellow students and character.

This summer, Chiang will be traveling to Taiwan to visit family members. In the fall, she will attend Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine as she pursues a doctor of veterinary medicine.

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