A woman wearing glasses and a white lab coat standing in front of a table with scientific equipment
Annie Hinson is working on her doctorate in microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

As a microbiology ambassador, Annie Hinson helps establish new student group and promotes science in the community

Hinson, a Ph.D. student in the School of Medicine, is organizing a science fair at a local middle school, among other efforts.

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Virginia Commonwealth University third-year Ph.D. student Annie Hinson loves science and wants to inspire others.

Hinson, who is working on her doctorate in microbiology and immunology in the School of Medicine, was recently elected as the American Society for Microbiology Young Ambassador for the state of Virginia. Hinson was also instrumental in establishing the ASM Student Chapter at VCU, serving as its vice-president.

Hinson traces her love of science to a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes at the age 8. She wanted to better understand why her body functioned differently than other students.

“I am more susceptible to a lot of infections,” Hinson said. “I was always curious why. I think it’s so fascinating that there are these organisms that you can’t see with the naked eye, but they cause so many things and do so many things. Sometimes I think they are smarter than people.”

Hinson was raised in Georgia and South Carolina and did her undergraduate work at Cooker University in South Carolina. She began looking at Ph.D. programs and was drawn to VCU. Hinson met with faculty and saw a place where she could develop a career in immunology. After starting her doctorate program, she joined the lab of Daniel P. Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Dentistry. Hinson studies the impacts of microbes on gum health.

When she got to VCU, she wanted to expand opportunities for immunology students to gather and have extracurricular activities around science and immunology. Hinson and several other students decided to start an American Society for Microbiology chapter at the university.

“I felt this would be a way to not only help graduate students but even undergrad students,” Hinson said.

The group put together an application and enlisted Miller. He is a member of the organization and wrote a letter of support. The group also had an adult ambassador to the American Society for Microbiology at Virginia Tech send a letter of support.

The chapter started last fall, and Hinson said it has been more successful than anticipated. The founders were thinking only a few students would want to join, but 20 to 25 students have attended meetings. They do various activities and are a great social outlet for students in the department.

“It’s a place where students can enhance their scientific skills like science communications,” Hinson said. “I am trying to create professional workshops for students.”

Hinson has also spread her love of science off campus. Last year she served as a mentor for students at Binford Middle School. She recently applied for a grant to hold a science fair at the school, and her application was accepted. Next fall, students will participate in the ASM's STEMulating Science Fair.

“I’m in full planning mode,” Hinson said. “I created a Google form to get a tally of who is willing and able to volunteer as a group mentor or help out in other ways. I’m also in the process of reaching out to various businesses to see if they’re interested in taking part in the great opportunity by helping out with donations.”

For her work, ASM has designated her the young ambassador for Virginia. She started the appointment at the beginning of the year, and it runs through the calendar year. She has the potential to be appointed again next year.

In her role, Hinson wants to work with the other ASM chapters in the state and create more collaboration.

“I am thinking about maybe a leadership symposium,” Hinson said.