Amazing Students

Stephan George

Stephan George
Stephan George: "I am passionate about creating novel therapeutics to treat hereditary disorders."

Stephan George, who is pursuing three bachelor’s degrees, started doing lab research as soon as he stepped foot on campus and is committed to making a difference for people with disabilities.


Lawrenceville, GA

High school:

Brookwood High School

Expected graduation:

May 2020

Degree objective:

B.S. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; B.S. Genetics; B.S. Biology

Current employment:

I am currently conducting a research project in the Wells laboratory at the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. I am investigating the role that seven mutations in a gene called O-GlcNAc Transferase play in the development of intellectual disability. I also recently began a project studying the role of the sugar GlcNAc in satiety signaling via the leptin response pathway.

University highlights, achievements and awards:

When I entered Myers Hall a little over a year ago, I had no idea how amazing my time at UGA would be. I’ve had the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research, join amazing organizations that impact the regional community, and meet some amazing friends that have forever shaped the way I think. The University of Georgia has a unique ability to transform students’ lives by combining brilliant professors with a vibrant student body itching to reach out to the community.

Through UGA’s CURO program, I began working in a laboratory as soon as I arrived on campus under the tutelage of Dr. Lance Wells. I study mutations in an enzyme called O-GlcNAc Transferase — a sugar transferase implicated in processes from cancer progression to nervous system development — that have been linked to intellectual disability. I was able to continue working on this project all throughout last summer. Now, after only a year and a half of ceaseless efforts, we are preparing a paper for peer review on which I will be a second author!

I have also conducted research through UGA’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team. This team seeks to solve regional issues through the use of genetic engineering. Because Georgia produces approximately half of the United States’ peanut crops, our team decided to create a biological sensor that recognizes a toxin commonly found on peanuts. We presented our research at the iGEM Giant Jamboree in Boston last November and received a bronze medal for our work!

I am also involved in UGA’s Science Olympiad Outreach organization, in which I have served as the treasurer and exam director. Through this initiative, we host the state’s second largest Science Olympiad invitational tournament each fall. This tournament consistently brings about 500 high school students to the university to compete in events encompassing all areas of science. It has been a great joy of mine to enable students to explore STEM fields through these tournaments, and I look forward to continuing to introduce students to science.

Through the Biochemistry Undergraduate Society, I have had the chance to serve as the chair of service. Through this position, I plan service activities for students interested in life sciences. This fall, we partnered with the Backpack Project to deliver backpacks filled with necessities such as food, first-aid equipment and clothing items to the homeless community in Athens. Beyond service activities, we also plan events for students such as professional panels to help students decide which career path suits their needs, socials with professors within the biochemistry department, and professional lectures. We also recently hosted Dr. Glowinsky, the acting director and deputy director of the Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, as she came to speak to our students about the intersection of biomedical research and science policy. I am grateful that I am part of such an enriching professional society that connects students with leaders in their field of study.

During my freshman year I was also able to play a part in creating the first HOSA chapter at UGA along with several other highly motivated students. Our primary focus is to provide both professional exposure and medical training opportunities for students interested in health care professions. Various events we have hosted include suture clinics, CPR training sessions and professional panels with leading scientists from the CDC, Emory University and local hospitals.

Academically, I have received the Zell Miller, Charter and CURO Honors Scholarship. I am also a member of the Dean William Tate Honor Society.

The University of Georgia offers an extraordinary amount of activities for students to get involved. I will always be thankful for all of the opportunities that UGA has provided for me to pursue my passions.

Family ties:

My brother and I are the first two in my family to attend UGA! My father’s side of the family is made up only of Tennessee fans, so every year you know there will be tension when we face the Volunteers!

I chose to attend UGA because …

… of the incredible opportunities offered through the CURO Honors Scholarship and the Honors College! I knew I wanted to come to UGA when I attended the CURO Symposium as a CURO Promising Scholar. It was incredible seeing so many students encouraged to pursue their interests in literally any field that interested them. During this visit I also learned about some of the University’s incredible facilities. The University of Georgia’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center is one of the greatest glycomics centers in the nation. Combining brilliant professors with a culture bent towards engaging young scientists in research, UGA undoubtedly provided the best opportunities for me to grow academically. It also doesn’t hurt that we have one of the best college towns and football teams in the US!

My favorite things to do on campus are …

Going to the intramural fields to play tennis with my friends or finding a random event on one of UGA’s quads. There are always kids wanting to play games like spikeball, Frisbee and football, so it’s never hard to find something to keep you busy. It is also always fun to grab a friend and go get bubble tea and listen to local musicians in downtown Athens!

When I have free time, I like …

… to explore UGA and the surrounding area — from the historic beauty of North Campus to the raucous crowd of Sanford Stadium, there isn’t a greater campus than UGA’s! It’s always nice to relax on Herty Field with a good book and watch the world go by. Within a 15-mile radius of campus you can find trail hiking (including a rope swing over the Oconee River!) at the botanical gardens, cheap paintball games in the woods, and any sports venue you could imagine between facilities such as Ramsey, the intramural fields and the parks around Athens.

The craziest thing I’ve ever done is …

… treat the Appalachian Trail as a cross country training session! My father always used to take me backpacking on different parts of the Appalachian Trail. However, when I began running cross country in high school, I decided that it was not enough simply to walk the AT. I had to conquer it with a full sprint! I’ll never forget the exhilarating feeling of bounding over the rocky slopes with 30 pounds of baggage, recklessly enjoying the hike. It brings a smile to my face remembering the incredulous shake of the head my father gave me at the end of the trail when he realized I was his son.

My favorite place to study is …

… definitely the Miller Learning Center. The Miller Learning Center is the only 24-hour study spot on campus, which is perfect for late night study sessions. The staff will never shame you if you bring a pillow and alarm clock into a study room to nap at 3 a.m. — only your fellow students will do that. If you are shameless enough to withstand their insults, there isn’t a better place to wake up on campus!

My favorite professor is …

That’s a tough one, but it would definitely have to be Lance Wells. Lance was gracious enough to accept me into his laboratory as soon as I arrived on campus at UGA. He always pushes me to combat scientific challenges from different angles and has given me the autonomy needed to become an independent thinker. This being said, he is always there whenever I need it and has been such an inspiring role model for me to follow. I truly feel welcome in the laboratory environment he has created — the friends and mentors that I’ve found here have been an endless source of guidance and support for me. I can’t thank Lance enough for providing me with the mentorship, inspiration and support network that have shaped my entire future.

I would also like to acknowledge Dr. Eggenschwiler and Dr. Kvitko for the enthusiasm with which they help students. Dr. Eggenschwiler challenges his students every day to consider scientific paradoxes from multiple angles and propose solutions to issues that arise in his neural development class. His influence has been pivotal for me learning to think like a scientist. Dr. Kvitko was gracious enough to mentor a team of 12 undergraduate students on the iGEM student research team. I can’t voice enough words of appreciation for him as he takes on this challenge, and I’m sure the rest of our team feels the same way.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …

It would most likely be Jonas Salk. Not only did he create the polio vaccine, but he also refused to patent the product for personal profit. This selfless act makes him one of America’s greatest heroes, and I would love the opportunity to speak with him about the challenges of conducting research when the only thing many companies see is the number of zeroes in the profit margin. More than that, I would have enjoyed getting to know him and his family — any man that devotes his life to other people like Salk did would surely be an incredible person to meet.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …

… create an early-action intervention therapy for people destined to acquire intellectual disability. Approximately 1 to 3 percent of the world is affected by an intellectual disability, yet the mechanisms for many of these disabilities are poorly understood. These disorders are taxing — often requiring families of the afflicted to make significant lifestyle changes to accommodate for the disorder’s effects. If I knew I couldn’t fail, I would discover the mechanism for the disorder’s progression and create intervention strategies to prevent the disorder from developing.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …

… travel throughout Germany and go sightseeing! My grandmother used to live in Germany before coming to the States, so it is not far removed from my heritage. I would love to take a tour of the national parks and major cities. As I have yet to travel outside of the country, I believe this would be an unforgettable experience.

How are you committed to pursuing your passion?

I am passionate about creating novel therapeutics to treat hereditary disorders. Growing up, my father would bring me into his classroom where he taught as a special education teacher. Here I saw the logistical and financial burdens that intellectual disabilities can place on families, so I have decided to do everything I can to help alleviate this burden for afflicted families. At UGA I began working toward this by beginning a research project in Dr. Wells’ laboratory to discover the mechanism for development of intellectual disability in patients containing point mutations in the gene O-GlcNAc Transferase. Eventually I hope to pursue a Ph.D. project where I can investigate these disabilities further and make a difference for these patients.

After graduation, I plan to…

Pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry where I will study mechanisms of disease progression of neurological disorders. Eventually I hope to become a university professor so I can mentor students as we tackle new medical challenges together.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

Traveling to Boston to compete as a part of UGA’s chapter of the International Genetically Engineered Machine at the iGEM Giant Jamboree Conference! iGEM is an organization that seeks to solve regional issues using genetic engineering. The conference brings in some of the world’s brightest young genetic engineers seeking the chance to show off the products they designed. At the conference we interacted with students using genetically engineered systems to solve issues such as toxin detection in agriculture, cancer detection/degradation, and even the incredible lack of biologically created music! Yes, there were actually DJ scientists using computer programs to create music from the patterns of bacteria grown on an agar plate! Through this team, I have had the fortune both to develop my own research projects and to interact with some the planet’s brightest undergraduates who will shape the future of our world.