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ACC Alumna Hits Her Stride as UNC Scientist, Musician

ACC alumna Kristi Dixon Yow

ACC alumna Kristi Dixon Yow

(September 13, 2022) – When do the phrases “genetics labs technician” and “singer-songwriter” result in a congruous blend rather than provide an example of opposing interests?

Ask Kristi Dixon Yow, an alumna of Alamance Community College, who spends her weekdays deep in scientific research and her weekends playing in an alternative band called “The Consequences of Our Own Actions.” More on the music later.

Kristie’s ACC experience played a large role in leading her to UNC-Chapel Hill and a vocation exploring the world of fruit flies and biological cells, proving once again that two years on the Graham campus opens doors to unimaginable experiences.

Saxapahaw native Kristi Yow grew up playing in the local woods and falling in love with nature and animals, an enjoyment that would later manifest itself in her career. By the time she attended Eastern Guilford High School, Kristi was volunteering with animal-related agencies such as Piedmont Wildlife Center, where she helped bring knowledge to the public at fairs and science days using rehabilitated rescue animal ambassadors.

Kristi’s pathway to her scientific career was ignited when she enrolled in ACC’s Animal Care and Management program, where she earned an associate’s degree. She liked the broad spectrum of the curriculum, giving her freedom to explore her options that might include animal control, rehabilitation, or veterinary assistance. She ended up interning one hundred hours at the Burlington Animal Services Shelter. While Kristi said working with dogs was immensely rewarding, she felt that she could do more. That’s when she learned about ACC’s C-STEP program that guaranteed admission to the University of North Carolina, a move she had not previously thought possible.

Through C-STEP, or the Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program, talented low- and moderate-income high school and community college students are guaranteed admission to Carolina. After being admitted to C-STEP and successfully completing their work at a partner community college, students are admitted to UNC Chapel Hill.

C-STEP gives students access to special events, advising, and transition and support services both at their community college and at Carolina. C-STEP students are academically prepared and fully engaged in their college and university communities – setting them on a positive path to success.

“I was amazed,” said Kristi. “UNC is a prestigious school that I grew up only twenty minutes away from. Never once did I think I would attend but ACC made that possible for me. Bonding with all the C-STEP classmates from ACC made it easier. We could confide in each other, took field trips together to UNC and, once we were students at UNC, some of us formed study groups. I appreciated the sense of camaraderie we formed.”

At UNC Chapel Hill, Kristi majored in biology, still thinking of working with animals in some capacity. That first semester she was accepted into a work-study lab assistant position that resulted in working with an adaptive radiation of pupfish endemic to the Bahamas. Working with Dr. Christopher Martin’s Pupfish Speciation lab allowed Kristi to later design an experiment to test the function of the novel nasal protrusion on a snail-eating breed of pupfish.

“Dr. Martin was impressed with my experimental design, and I was paired with one of his graduate students, Michelle St. John, to broaden the study,” said Kristi. “We eventually published in The Journal of Fish Biology, my first second-author paper.”

As an undergrad at UNC, Kristi took the opportunity to study abroad in Australia, spending a month studying different ecological landscapes across the eastern coast of Queensland. While there, she noted some “down under” trivia: Koala bears feel like shag carpet; dangerous animals are not as abundant as the internet makes it seem; no images will ever prepare a visitor for the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.

Since earning her B.A. degree in biology from UNC, Kristi now works as a lab manager in UNC’s Peifer Lab under the guidance of Dr. Mark Peifer, where she has studied cell development in fruit flies. She is co-first author with graduate student Kia Perev-Vale on a research paper. Her work with this project inspired a new study that is under review and will be Kristi’s first primary authorship soon.

“I didn’t expect to go into research when I transferred to UNC from ACC, but along the way I discovered something that I loved,” she said. “While I always wanted to work with animals—and fruit flies aren’t quite scratching that itch—I’ve also always loved science and I’m very content now assisting in lab research.”

ACC alumna and scientist Yow performing with her band

Above, ACC alumna and scientist Yow performing with her band.

And then there is music for this young scientist. While her interest in science was often at the forefront of her brain, her artistic side never retreated as she made up songs about tree frogs, singing them for her family as a child. Later, as her songwriting became more sophisticated, Kristi’s father (also an ACC alumnus) had some professionally recorded which led to performing acoustically at venues around the Triangle area.

Along with her husband, Kristi is also a member of an alternative band in Carrboro called The Consequences of Our Own Actions, a group that formed with the inclusion of a drummer who happened to work in the Biochemistry Department at UNC.

“We started out doing a few open mics at the end of 2019, and here we are in 2022 playing in venues as far as Winston-Salem to Raleigh with hopes of expanding that range,” she said.

Kristi Yow appears to have the best of both worlds for now. Using both parts of her brain for science and music allows her to explore her creativity in myriad ways. Kristi is yet another example of how Alamance Community College alumni was bettering our world.