Austin McKenna, like so many other Class of 2020 graduates, never thought he'd be graduating in the midst of a pandemic
McKenna, who will receive his doctorate in biological sciences, may not participate in a traditional commencement ceremony this weekend, but he'll nonetheless be able to take pride in his accomplishments and honors earned during his time at UNLV.
McKenna is an integrative biologist whose research at UNLV focused on how organisms utilize energy stores during times of stress.
“We used the common fruit fly to understand (the evolution) of starvation resistance and how that looks physiologically and genetically,” McKenna said.
His research takes the understanding of obesity as a behavioral disorder to a biological genetic predisposition in humans. Simply put, some people are genetically inclined to store more fat.
UNLV’s School of Life Sciences provided a diverse research program that allowed McKenna to explore different research topics. Academic programs, though, are always more than the sum of their classroom experiences.
“In the School of Life Sciences, the grad student population is close," McKenna said. "I’m going to miss hanging out with the other grad students on Fridays.”
McKenna won the Graduate College’s 2017 Rebel Grad Slam three-minute thesis competition and represented UNLV at the Southwest Showdown, a regional three-minute thesis competition.
He served as a faculty liaison for the biology graduate student organization, BIOS, where he represented graduate students during faculty meetings and communicated ideas and concerns. McKenna then became president of BIOS, where he continued to represent graduate students and led department initiatives including events and fundraisers.
McKenna also worked closely with Daniel Thompson throughout his college career, and together they added a discussion section to the evolution class at UNLV.
The Las Vegas native will pursue a biotech job in the San Francisco area where he will soon be moving.