Claudia Desjardins of Bangor pursued a major in animal and veterinary sciences and a minor in mathematics to make a difference in the lives of animals and humans through disease research and prevention. As an undergraduate, she collaborated with UMaine researcher mentors for a study of Maine’s wild turkey population and helped test ticks for pathogens, including Lyme disease.
Ultimately, she discovered her passion for laboratory diagnostic testing — skills that proved particularly important in the midst of the pandemic.
Last fall, she joined UMaine’s COVID-19 wastewater monitoring team, a part of the UMS Science Advisory Board, focused on providing timely health and safety guidance for Maine’s public universities. The wastewater monitoring team is led by Robert Wheeler, UMaine associate professor of microbiology.
Desjardins completed her undergraduate coursework in December and is now working full time in the Wheeler lab. She is involved in the processing and testing of wastewater samples collected twice weekly at UMaine, University of Maine at Fort Kent, University of Maine at Presque Isle and University of Southern Maine Gorham campus. The wastewater testing program also analyzes samples collected at the wastewater facilities in Orono and Farmington, and the University of New England Biddeford campus.
This testing is important in helping meet the health and safety needs of our community, Desjardins says, because people can shed the virus before they begin showing COVID-19 symptoms.
“By regularly screening our wastewater, we can determine if there is a significant prevalence on campus before we get the chance to test individuals,” Desjardins says.
It has been exciting to generate and witness this data firsthand, she says, “and incredibly fulfilling when your work is making a positive impact on the rest of the community.”