Undergraduate research helped this Hokie find her place

Christine Faunce, Photo credit: Christina Franusich
Christine Faunce, Photo credit: Christina Franusich

“My first year at Tech was anything but ideal,” said Christine Faunce, a junior honors student double majoring in experimental neuroscience and chemistry in the College of Science. “In fact, I had printed out university withdrawal forms during my first semester. Getting involved in undergraduate research was pivotal for me as a freshman who was truly struggling to find her niche on such a large campus.”

At the end of the fall semester of her first year, Christine was invited by her introductory psychology professor, Dr. Scott Geller, to become a field study student at the Center for Applied Behavior Systems. Through this experience, she met a graduate student named Bryce who became a source of encouragement and mentorship.

“Bryce was the first person who unconditionally supported me and my ambitions,” said Christine. Unfortunately, Bryce passed away in 2017. “Losing such an integral person who changed my perspective of college made me question if I should really stay here,” said Christine. “What made me stay was realizing that Bryce had laid out a foundation for me to succeed at Virginia Tech, and more than anything, I just want to make him proud. 

“Bryce’s passing made me realize how little is known about mental illnesses and inspired me to study psychiatric illness,” said Christine. She joined the Buczynski Lab as an undergraduate research assistant in January 2018, studying the molecular and behavioral consequences of drug addiction in mice.

Her nominator wrote, “When she speaks about what she is doing in her lab, it makes you want to join her because of the level of enthusiasm that she portrays.”

While her research endeavors and academic courses were feeding her intellectual curiosity, Christine felt something was missing. One of her top five strengths—Significance—was pulling her to invest in people, to help others find their sense of purpose. To satisfy this yearning, Christine became a resident advisor for Hillcrest Hall.

“I became an R.A. with the hopes that I could positively impact just one resident’s time at Virginia Tech,” said Christine. “And while it is difficult to realize in the moment, I hope that they all find the success they are looking for, and I hope I was able to help them find it.”

Her nominator wrote, “Countless times I have encountered Christine having conversations with her residents in their common space, asking questions to get them to think deeper but also to give her a deeper understanding of the resident.”

After graduating in 2021, Christine hopes to be accepted to a Ph.D. program in neuropharmacology and to join a lab that uses molecular and behavioral measures to study the underpinnings of mental illnesses and substance use disorders. Her goal is to find novel, safe, and more effective therapeutics for these illnesses.

“I truly look up to Brett (Christine’s nominator) for being an exemplary Hokie, so the fact that he thought of me when he read about these awards means more to me than I will ever be able to express in words,” said Christine.