When Stefany Orellana started her first semester at Liberty University, she did not expect that she would appear before the Virginia House of Delegates Science and Technology Committee before she finished her undergraduate studies.
“I was really intimidated by research when I was a freshman and a first-semester sophomore,” Orellana said. “I really didn’t think it was something I could be involved with. I was scared.”
Orellana joined the Scientific Research Society her sophomore year. This not only encouraged her to enter the world of research, but also to participate in Liberty University’s annual research week.
“That spring, I was able to do the proposal that would lead to the research project I am conducting now,” Orellana said. “It does take up a lot of time. I am still an undergraduate student. I have to work on balancing school, clubs and research.”
Orellana also fulfills the role of secretary for the Scientific Research Society. She is not a stranger to a busy schedule.
“Even yesterday, we had research lab for four hours after my classes, then I come to the library to work some more,” Orellana said. “Yes, I experience burnout, but I just have to reevaluate when that happens.”
However, she continues to remain consistent and invested in undergraduate research on campus. Although she learned many practical skills, her research taught her life skills and confidence.
“It has taught me so many things,” Orellana said. “Not only have I learned lab techniques, but also, being comfortable with presentations. It enabled me to present here at Liberty, but also the Virginia Academy of Science.”
These opportunities encouraged Orellana to step out of the lab and behind a podium. The benefits of her research extend way beyond hypotheses and data collection.
“My research is interdisciplinary, so I go between Dr. Korn, Dr. Allen and Dr. Hubbard,” Orellana said. “We are able to learn, not just from one discipline, but from three. We are able to apply techniques from multiple professors to carry out one singular purpose.”
Her research focuses on an on-the-rise homeopathic trend: essential oils. Orellana and her colleagues tested the antimicrobial properties of essential oils. After reading literature claiming these oils possess antibacterial properties, they decided to test the validity and quality of household essential oils.
“While I was volunteering at a hospital, I heard about antibiotic resistance being a big problem,” Orellana said. “This alternative could be ground-breaking in the medical field.”
The team started testing essential oils like oregano, lavender and cinnamon bark against E. coli and staph bacteria to see the effects. Last semester, their research proved that these essential oils can fight bacteria, but they are seeking to enhance these effects. This semester, the team is conducting chemical procedures to alter the intensity of the oils.
“Lots of essential oils come from plants or roots,” Orellana said. “Other countries who don’t have the medicinal resources that we do may be able to incorporate that into their medical treatments. This research has a global aspect to it.”
Because of their diligence and innovation, Orellana and her fellow student researchers were given the opportunity to present to the Virginia Academy of Science and then, the Virginia House of Delegates Science and Technology Committee. Although they have found success in their field, these students face the same challenges of career scientists.
“There is not a ton of literature on chemically-modified oils,” Orellana said. “It is very new, so we have to find our own way. We are experiencing real science, but it is also very time-consuming to do an experiment that has never been done before.”
Orellana explained the importance of research and desires to see more undergraduates invested in the practice.
“Research gives you hands-on experience,” Orellana said. “It allows you to try something different. My colleagues will be pre-med, and that’s great. That is how I started out, but then I did research. God reveals to us passions we did not know we had. For me, taking time for research did exactly that.”