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Alumnus looks to start program like the one that taught her

Photo: Headshot of Samantha Warren

Samantha Warren is currently on the faculty of Fontbonne University. She joined them after receiving her doctorate from the Computer Science Department at Mizzou Engineering. Photo courtesy of Fontbonne University

The path that Samantha Warren’s education and career traveled repeatedly led to an ending different from the beginning. As an undergraduate, she was a math major whose studies wandered to biology, which led her to computer science for graduate school. She was a lab researcher-turned data cruncher who became a teacher.

Her foray into biology was brief.

“On my second day on campus, I had an interview with a biochem lab,” Warren said about her freshman year.

But being in the lab didn’t turn out to be her favorite part of the scientific method — her self-admitted clumsiness led to a couple of burnt lab gloves and broken containers.

“I loved the data analytics side of the experiments,” she said. “I started doing bioinformatics, and that led to a fellowship in computer science.”

She joined former Mizzou computer science Associate Professor Dmitry Korkin’s research group and finished her bachelor’s degree in 2010. Her background in biochemistry allowed her to explore computational biology for a graduate degree. She worked with Korkin on his NSF CAREER Award-winning research on soybean plant proteins.

Science was always one of Warren’s favorite subjects in school. She had her own microscope as a child, and eventually, she also got a pupil of sorts.

“I was an only child until I was nine,” she said. “Then my little sister was born, and I began teaching her.”

She also was a teaching assistant at MU for five semesters.

“I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” she said. “It wasn’t until about sophomore year that I realized I wanted to be a professor. I wanted to teach more than do research.”

She now is a full-time assistant professor of computer science and bioinformatics at Fontbonne University in St. Louis. There, she continues her computational biology research into the smallest organisms, specifically viruses.

“I’ve wanted to study viruses since I was 16-years-old when I learned about the Ebola virus in [the book] ‘The Hot Zone,’” she said.

Fontbonne University is planning to start a bioinformatics program in the next year. Warren was hired to get this program going and serve as its director.

“We’re applying for grant to make a computing cluster out of Raspberry Pi’s,” she said, adding that the more immediate future will include data mining that will help her and her students with parallel processing. She is also learning the out-of-the lab responsibilities of a member of academia.

“This first year has been really busy,” she said. “I’m learning how much time is spent in meetings and answering emails.”

Looking back, Warren said the best advice she can offer current students is to get involved in campus activities and organizations.

“Don’t be afraid to take the evening off and go do an activity,” she said.

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