Exploring the World of Research

An Inside Look with Kohl Perry from the CROPPS REU Program

Kohl Perry

Explore the world of research as we delve into the experiences of summer scholars with the Center for Research on Programmable Plant Systems (CROPPS). Join us in conversations with budding researchers as they walk us through their time in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program for CROPPS hosted by the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) on the Cornell University campus. Gain insights from students Dahlia Isabella Bolt, Lexi Ellis, Jack Greger, Oge Okpala, and Kohl Perry as they engage in discussions about overcoming challenges and revealing the secrets to successful innovation.

Kohl Perry

  • University: Tuskegee University
  • Major: Biology
  • Graduation year: 2026
  • Hometown: Anniston, Alabama 
  • Project: Examining Lipid Nanoparticles as an effective method for pDNA delivery into tomato plants
  • Mentors: Chris Alibi and Joyce Van Eck

The CROPPS program combines researchers from plant sciences, engineering, computer science, and the social sciences into an integrated program to plant biological research and translation. Tell us about your REU project with CROPPS faculty and fellow students

“I worked on plant gene delivery via lipid nanoparticles, which attempts to deliver biological molecules into cells by encapsulating them in lipids. In the lab we examined how these LNPs can be used to deliver plasma DNA into the nucleus of a tomato cell. It was a collaborative lab working across chemical engineering to transcribe and make the lipid nanoparticles, and in plant science working with tomato plants at the Boyce Thompson Institute.”

What drew you to join this project?

I was excited about the lab because of the chance to work with plant gene delivery. I heard about a maize project that Dr. Joyce Van Eck was involved in, and it seemed intriguing. Dr. Van Eck also had an ongoing research collaboration with my advisor, Dr. Marceline Egnin, at Tuskegee University. It all just felt right.”

CROPPS believes in the power of mentorship for young scientists. Tell us ways mentorship has impacted you as a scientist

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of great mentors. Dr. Marceline Egnin, on top of being an amazing teacher in the science world, is someone who has really looked out for me. I would not have been able to go to Cornell without her guidance and willingness to be there for me. She shows genuine care that really pushes you to think, ‘I can do this, and I can be a successful scientist’.”

What has been your favorite part of the REU program?

Honestly, being with the friends that I made in Ithaca. I could just always come and talk and share our experience together. 

My favorite part in the lab was the chance to learn more and to get under the hood and experiment with my own hands. In this program you get to be responsible for your own research. I think I like being put in situations where I can blame no one else but me. I had a lot of support and mentorship, but I definitely liked feeling empowered to pursue research on my own as well.”

How has this summer experience prepared you for the future?

I feel much more confident in rooms now where once I felt a bit more intimidated. I’m more confident that I can share my opinion. Cornell is an Ivy League school, and I was able to go there and hold my own and feel like I belonged. It was very empowering; it truly was life changing. I have no doubts now that I continue on this path of biological sciences, whether it’s plant biology or biomedical engineering. I just feel more confident and more prepared for whatever life throws at me.”

Is there anything that you learned about yourself from this REU experience?

“Absolutely. Like a lot of young people, and especially young scientists, I have felt that sense of impostor syndrome at times. But this showed me that I shouldn’t doubt my own abilities. At Cornell and Boyce Thompson, there are people there to teach you, who say ‘let’s do it,’ and they’ll take you under their wing and be patient with you and cultivate that feeling that you can be confident in yourself and your ability. I think that’s one of the things I’ve learned about myself: that I belong in science and have a lot to offer.”

Learn more from the 2023 CROPPS REU students

Apply for the 2024 Summer REU Program