Here at the College of Sciences and Humanities, we love to highlight the new faculty members joining our team. Dr. Ashley Kalinski is a new assistant professor in the Department of Biology. Her area of specialty is in immunology and neuroscience, and more specifically she studies neuroinflammation.
What is your journey to Ball State?
My path to Ball State was a very indirect one! I decided to attend Adrian College, a small liberal arts college in Michigan, for undergrad, the week before classes started. I double majored in biology and Japanese studies with the aspirations to become a neurosurgeon. However, after living abroad in Japan for a year during college, I realized I was more curious about basic science than medicine.
I randomly applied to a non-thesis masters in biology program at Drexel University as an opportunity to figure out what a career in science actually looked like, because I had zero research experience.
I fell in love with molecular neuroscience and how neurons respond to traumatic injury. I found a great lab and ended up staying for my PhD.
An unexpected twist happened right after my candidacy exam when we moved the whole lab to the University of South Carolina. I was trained as a neuroscientist, but I realized I was very interested in how the immune system, or inflammation, can affect a neuron’s ability to repair itself after damage. So, for my postdoctoral fellowship, I moved to the University of Michigan where I got a crash course in neuroinflammation. There I started to understand and elucidate interactions between innate immune cells, neurons and glial cells.
Why did you want to work at Ball State?
When I began to think about starting up my own lab, I knew I wanted to be at a university that valued both research and teaching. I wanted to find a place that could give students an exceptional research experience, but at a scale that was more personalized and intentional. Ball State’s biology department was exactly that. I couldn’t have found a better place to start my dream career.
What are your research and teaching interests?
My research combines two very broad fields, neuroscience and immunology, but brings them together in a very specific way. I want to understand how inflammation can affect neural repair in different parts of the body. Your neurons are very good at repairing themselves in the periphery (think arms and legs), but terrible at it in places like your brain and spinal cord. We are starting to understand how the inflammatory state, and extracellular environments, directly affect neurons’ ability to be repaired. My lab wants to know what those specific signals are and if we can harness those signals to improve outcomes after things like spinal cord injury.
I am excited to be in the driver’s seat and follow my curiosity to see where our research takes us.
Is there anything in particular you hope to accomplish in your first year at Ball State?
Since I will be teaching immunology and introductory biology, my goals are to bring the content to life. How does what we are learning in the classroom directly affect your daily life? How can we communicate our knowledge of biology or the immune system to the general public? How can we use this knowledge to make better and more informed decisions about our health? A huge proportion of my students are pre-health majors and will be eventually interacting with patients on a daily basis.
I hope that through my courses, I can teach them how to take information, process it, and deliver it to someone who does not have that same science background.
This semester, my immunology students are doing a podcast-style presentation on an autoimmune topic. If this goes well, I really hope to develop this into a more formal and yearly podcast that we can actually broadcast or provide access to the whole Ball State campus.
What do you like to do in your free time?
When I am not working, most of my time is dedicate to my family. I have two little girls and we try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. In the pre-pandemic era, we loved camping and spending time at my parent’s lake house. I also am really into yoga and trying coffee from roasters all over the world.
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