Knight Campus Program Gives Undergrads Real-World Research Experience

Knight Campus Program Gives Undergrads Real-World Research Experience
Story By Rachael Nelson, University Communications
Video by dusty Whitaker, University Communications

Young Scientists Participate in Tailored Professional Development Activities to Prepare for the Next Step in Their Careers

Emily Niebergall always had a passion for science.

But it was during missionary trips to Ghana, Indonesia, and South Africa that the University of Oregon biology major found direction.

Her travels provided a first-hand view of how infectious disease inflicts trauma on people in developing countries. It inspired Neibergall, of Hillsboro, Oregon, to seize upon every opportunity to shape her studies and research around fighting disease, ultimately to make life better for those around the world.

At the UO, Niebergall was one of six students immersed in the 2019 cohort of an undergraduate research program through the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. The Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars Program is a yearlong experience pairing promising young scientists with mentors in prestigious UO labs.


Emily Niebergall

“This program gave me the opportunity to do the research that confirmed my passion to study human disease and the immune system.”

—Emily Niebergall

As part of the program, Niebergall worked through the year with her mentor Emily Beck, a postdoctoral research associate in Bill Cresko's lab.

The Knight Campus mission, to advance society by dramatically shortening the timeline between discovery and impact, meshes well with Niebergall’s desire to fight disease.

Niebergall's research in the Cresko Lab focuses on disease modeling using threespine stickleback fish. “We know a lot about this fish and its evolution,” says Niebergall. “One characteristic is that they can change really quickly, from an evolutionary standpoint, which means there are a lot of different populations we can study all at once.”


2019 Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars
2020 Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars
Month comprehensive research experience

The evolution of the stickleback fish is now part of her thesis, which explores its adaptive immune system and cell-mediated immunodeficiencies.

Niebergall hopes to apply to a doctoral program to study immunology, specifically diseases affecting people in developing countries.

“One day, I hope to apply my research to humans,” says Niebergall. “So, I think it is important that the Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars Program not only teaches us how to become scientists, but how to become ethical scientists.”


2020 kcus collage


2020 Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars


The Knight Campus undergraduate scholars and their mentors
2019 Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholars



Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholar Michelle Hernandez with her mentor, Kelly Hyland, working in a lab
Scholar in Guldberg Lab

Junior biology major and Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholar, Michelle Hernandez (left), is studying regenerative therapies for osteoarthritis in the lab of Robert Guldberg, Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. “Throughout this experience, I have developed a passion for research," Hernandez says. "I want to continue that research to hopefully make a difference in people’s lives, whether that is through teaching or scientific discovery.”

Michelle's Experience in the Lab


Knight Campus Rendering
The Knight Campus

When the 160,000-square-foot first phase of the Knight Campus opens in 2020, it will expand opportunities for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and scientists – with flexible research spaces that provide a supportive environment for a high degree of interactions among research groups and those in industry. The campus creates the intellectual infrastructure to establish Oregon as a center for both research and development, making Oregon a place where companies can start-up, grow, and stay.

Discover the Vision


Interested in Supporting the Program?

Contact Lusha Kaufmann, senior director of development, University of Oregon,