Ritzman lands microbiology research position for doctorate



Rita Forbes

Anna Ritzman never planned to be a scientist.

“It ended up being a passion I never knew I had,” she said. “I had never seen a microscope until my sophomore year in college. Now that’s what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.”

Ritzman began her academic career at Missouri Southern as an English major and then switched to art. But when she spent time with Dr. James Jackson, professor of biology, and took a class in microbiology, something clicked.

She will graduate with a degree in biology in May. Soon afterward, she will begin working on her doctorate in the molecular microbiology and immunology-veterinary pathobiology program at the University of Missouri.

For the next four to five years, Ritzman will study and research bacteria and diseases like the plague and spinal muscular atrophy. Acceptance into the program means her tuition and health insurance costs are waived. In addition, she will receive a $21,000 stipend each year, which will increase to $22,000 once she completes comprehensive exams.

150 students applied to the program, out of which 30 were chosen to be interviewed and 15 were ultimately accepted. Ritzman recalls the weekend-long interview process as “the most grueling thing I’ve ever been through.”

But she still knew right away that this was where she belonged. She was so sure that this was the place for her, that she didn’t even apply anywhere else.

“It is the coolest place I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I walked into that room and thought, ‘This is where I’m meant to be.’ I was like, ‘Where are the diseases?'”

Ritzman was struck by the collaborative program’s open atmosphere.

“It’s a lot like Southern,” she said. “Everybody communicates, cooperates, and helps each other.”

Ritzman has worked hard. A member of the honors program, she has typically taken over 20 credit hours each semester and often stays up until 2 a.m. studying. But she credits her achievements to her close relationship with MSSU faculty. Ritzman has prepped laboratories in the biology department since 2004.

“To be a successful student, you have to have a lot of contact with your professors,” she said. “I saw them three to four times a week [when I prepped their labs]. I was really lucky in that way.”

Her professors appreciate Ritzman’s dedication.

“We just strut into lab, everything’s all set up, and we look really conscientious,” said Jackson. “We’ve seen her get material ready for brand-new experiments that she’s never done before, and just pull it all together.”

Finding some time to get away from the lab has been important for Ritzman as well. She has been involved with numerous student organizations during her four years at MSSU, including Omicron Delta Kappa, Catholic Campus Ministry, Zeta Tau Alpha, and Chemistry Club. She also paints and writes short stories.

“I take my work seriously, but I am very light-hearted,” she said.

Dr. Vickie Roettger, associate professor of biology, said Ritzman’s exuberant, fun-loving personality will stand her in good stead in graduate school and beyond.

“We always like personalities like this,” she said. “The work can be extremely tense.”

While the prospect of graduate school can be intimidating at times, Ritzman is eager to begin.

And her professors are just as excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.

“It’s a great joy to all of us when we send off a student like this,” Roettger said.