Breanna “Bre” Nowak moved over 580 miles from her hometown in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, to Richmond, Indiana, to live her dream of playing golf at the collegiate level and earn her undergraduate degree. The first Red Wolf athlete from the state of Wisconsin, Nowak first came to IU East as a high school recruit from Chippewa Falls.
“I felt like IU East was a really good fit for what I wanted,” Nowak said.
This May at IU East’s 48th Commencement Ceremony Nowak will receive a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry degree. She is this year’s Naomi Osborne Scholar, an honor given to the graduate with the highest grade point average, and will lead the graduating class during the alumni induction ceremony.
“It’s an honor to be named the Naomi Osborne Scholar,” Nowak said. “The last four years at IU East I’ve received honors for my athletics, and now for my academics. I take a lot of pride and I put a lot of effort into my courses, so it’s nice to see it pay off.”
This fall Nowak will attend the Indiana University School of Medicine. Currently, she’s leaning toward the anesthesia program, but she plans to keep an open mind, she added. She is the second consecutive Naomi Osborne Scholar to attend medical school. Last year’s scholar, Lucas Huffman, is currently in the medical program at Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis. Huffman was also a Red Wolf student-athlete at IU East. He was a member of the men’s basketball team.
“I knew for sure that I wanted to go into science, and I thought maybe medicine,” Nowak said. “Everything I experienced through research and tutoring others in the last four years helped me to cement the idea of a medical career for my future.”
Nowak is in the Honors Program, an academic program that provides an intellectually enriched curriculum for highly motivated students. She is a member of Student Athletics Advisory Committee (SAAC). Nowak tutors other students through the Math and Science Center, a part of the IU East School of Natural Science and Mathematics.
Through the biochemistry program at IU East Nowak has had the opportunity to research with a faculty mentor, Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Hitesh Kathuria.
Kathuria, who is also the director of Office of Collaborative Academic Programs and assistant vice president for University Academic Affairs at Indiana University, said Nowak is very intuitive and remarkably gifted as a problem solver.
“Her first-rate deductive and inductive reasoning skills were evident by her course and lab work,” Kathuria said. “All through her time at IU East, Bre has focused her efforts in preparation for medical school, while still making time to help fellow students and athletes. She has helped her fellow students in almost every facet of the natural sciences and mathematics. She has a unique ability to be able to analyze data from various angles. Her questions are thought-provoking and relevant to the topic being discussed.”
In 2017, Nowak received a Summer Research Scholarship, a competitive program providing funding for students to conduct research or a creative project with a faculty mentor. She continued her research with Kathuria on her project, “Examining the Effects of Lindane on Gene Expression in Fruit Flies.”
As part of her research, Nowak modeled the organism Drosophila melanogaster to identify key genes whose expression levels have altered upon exposure to Lindane, an organochlorine insecticide. The stress of the insecticide Lindane, a carcinogen, altered the expression levels of various genes with the genome of the fruit fly.
Kathuria explained that Nowak’s research assessed the changes in gene expression in Drosophila upon exposure to various pesticides. He added Nowak maintained fly stocks, taught other students, standardized several new protocols in the lab and kept an inventory of the lab reagents and equipment.
“Even though she was a research assistant she evolved into an uber lab manager position by virtue of the workload she has taken upon herself,” Kathuria said. “She has learned numerous molecular biology and biochemistry techniques and is actively involved in teaching them to other students. So far, she has trained four undergraduate students in the research lab.”
Nowak continued her research as part of her Honors thesis, presented this year at Student Research Day. Her presentation received first place for Honors presentations. Additionally, she is preparing a research paper for publication, which is currently under revision, Kathuria said.
“Presenting at Student Research Day is always nerve-wracking but when you’re done, it’s super exciting,” Nowak said.
During the Honors Convocation held April 18 Nowak was recognized with this year’s outstanding students.
Associate Professor of Chemistry Yu Kay Law shared his thoughts on Nowak’s attention to academics.
“Bre is one of the most outstanding students I’ve seen, and not just because of her brilliance,” Law said. “Both inside and outside the classroom, she is an academic tour de force, always ahead of where she needs to be in terms of her work. What distinguishes her, however, is not just her sheer brilliance, but rather her humility, her leadership skills, and her genuine desire to learn.”
As a member of the women’s golf team, Nowak found her niche and success there as well. It was the athletics program that piqued her interest in IU East.
Compared to Chippewa Falls, Nowak said the city of Richmond is a little bit bigger; their population in 2017 was 14,035 compared to Richmond at more than twice its size. The environment – an agriculture based area – is the same, she added.
“IU East definitely has a small campus feel to it. At first, I didn’t know if I would like that but I really came to enjoy it,” Nowak said.
IU East Athletic Director Joe Griffin said Nowak leads by example through her hard work and dedication in the classroom.
“Bre is the type of athlete that you are looking for to build a program around. Great student, great athlete, great competitor,” Griffin said. “Bre’s drive to be successful has been evident since she first came to campus. She is the type of student that works hard and expects a lot from herself.”
Billy Mullin has worked with Nowak throughout his first season as the head coach for women’s golf.
“Bre is the consummate student-athlete,” Mullin said. “Everyone can observe how intelligent and bright Bre Nowak is, but it was her efficiency in managing her time that has been legendary at IU East. Her excellence on the golf course has only been outdistanced by her leadership on the women’s golf team for four years. She has been and in many ways will always be the leader of the PACK. Her legacy within the women’s golf team and Red Wolf Nation will endure.”
Nowak became the first IU East golfer to earn All-America honors during a memorable week in May 2018 during which she celebrated a birthday and then proceeded to finish in 10th place at the NAIA Women’s Golf National Championship in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. She made the national event’s all-tournament team, an honor that includes automatic qualification for the national tournament to be held May 14-17, 2019, at the Lincoln Park Golf Course in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
“Nationals motivated me for this season and to push my team to get them there this year,” Nowak said. The women’s golf team has five members.
She has also been a River States Conference honoree. In 2016, she was IU East’s first NAIA Women’s Golf National Championship qualifier and also IU East’s first women’s golf conference tournament medalist. She was also the first freshman at IU East to receive the IU East Champions of Character Award.
Griffin said Nowak has had a great collegiate career with two conference medals, three national tournament appearances, and achieving an All-American title during her junior year with one more attempt to go.
“Bre’s presence will be missed on the golf course and even more in the classroom,” Griffin said. “Her involvement as a tutor, helping her team at Back-Pack Blessings, to her work in the science labs helping with research is evidence of the high character of this young lady. Her work ethic will help her to be successful as she continues her education and academic life pursuit in medical school.”
As the Naomi Osborne Scholar, Nowak will help lead the Class of 2019 as they are inducted into the Indiana University Alumni Association during the Commencement Ceremony.
“The support of my IU East family that I’ve built will make the transition to the medical school more comfortable and will definitely help with the next step,” Nowak said.