Chemistry, genetics major to research cancer biology at Cornell

Brianna Knode has loved chemistry since high school, chose WSU because of personal touch



Senior Brianna Knode will graduate this spring with degrees in chemistry and genetics and cell biology.

GREY KAMASZ, Evergreen reporter

Brianna Knode initially considered WSU as a safety school when she was applying to colleges four years ago. She toured the Pullman campus out of convenience, only to fall in love with the friendly environment and the “Cougs help Cougs” mentality.

Knode is graduating this semester with a degree in chemistry, along with genetics and cell biology. She said she discovered her passion for chemistry in high school.

“I took two chemistry classes in high school: [general] chemistry and AP chemistry,” Knode said. “I was like the only student in our class who enjoyed the class. I thought that was a bit [telling] that this was a good subject for me.”

Knode entered WSU as a Distinguished Regents Scholar on the pre-medicine track. She started in Professor John Wyrick’s lab to boost her pre-med resume. However, she fell in love with cell biology in her general genetics class and switched majors to chemistry and genetics. 

“[Genetics is] one of those classes people either love or hate. I’ve heard a lot of hate on it, but I adored it,” Knode said. “I randomly decided to take on a second major, and later realized I had enough credits to do a second full degree.”

One aspect of her degree she enjoyed was undergraduate research because it allowed her to explore interdisciplinary topics and other subjects related to her degree. It also helped narrow her focus on future research subjects.

During her time at WSU, Knode served as the vice president of community service for the WSU chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. She also completed all three levels of the WSU leadership program. Knode said those programs shaped her social development and ability to communicate.

“I came into college quiet and had a really hard time meeting people and making new friends,” she said. “[Through] those programs, and WSU in general, I’ve learned how to put myself out there, communicate more efficiently and interact with people. It has helped me professionally, academically and in my personal life making new friends.”

Knode said her opinion of WSU changed completely after touring the campus and experiencing the friendliness of the community. 

“I got the chance to directly meet with my current academic adviser, Jeremy Lessman, [and] after my tour, he called me and asked if I had any further questions,” Knode said. “[He] was very personable and helpful in answering any questions I had. That personal touch is what really drew me to WSU.”

When looking back, Knode found the football games to be a memorable part of her time at WSU. She liked bringing her family to the games and meeting new people.

“I think it is a great way to connect to the WSU community,” she said. “Going forward, I’m going to take [those memories] with me because the atmosphere was very memorable and made me really feel like a community member here at WSU.” 

Knode said her biggest accomplishments are the awards and scholarships she received. She won a nationally competitive scholarship through the DAAD RISE program. The scholarship enabled her to study for a semester abroad in Marburg, Germany.

During her time abroad, Knode worked at Philipps University in Marburg. She conducted research on small cell lung cancer and took an Honors College independent study course in which she researched the importance of music in German culture and history.

Knode said she is most proud of her resilience. She switched majors as an undergraduate and still earned two degrees in STEM. She also completed most of her classes online during the pandemic.

Knode’s friends and mentors said she has impacted those around her both inside and outside of an academic setting. 

“I feel very lucky to be her friend because I think she is one of those people that if she picks you and decides to be your friend, she is [going to] treat you with the utmost love and respect,” said senior biochemistry major Haley Morris.

Knode’s mentors have witnessed her passion and drive grow throughout her time at WSU.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brianna go to her next steps and eventually become the head of a lab and find out amazing things,” said Marian Laughery, School of Molecular Biosciences graduate student. 

Knode will begin her doctoral studies in biomedical and biological sciences at Cornell University in August. Her research will focus primarily on cancer biology.

“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life other than science,” she said. “I knew it [would be] tough, but I enjoyed it enough that it makes it worth it.”

Knode has two pieces of advice for students.

First, she said students are not required to fully dedicate their college time to academics. She encourages students to enjoy the social aspects of their time at school.

“It’s not all academics 24/7, and it is not a super smooth road the entire time [either],” Knode said. “It involves a lot of hard work and I want other students to know that it is possible to meet your goals, even if you’re not doing school perfectly.”

Knode was reluctant to join campus clubs and make connections. She said forming relationships with professors and others helped her succeed in college, so students should be intentional about seeking out connections.

“It is important to make connections with people, and I feel like that is what I was told,” Knode said. “I did not take it to heart, and it made things a little bit more difficult until I realized that it’s a great thing to do to make those connections. I kind of wish I had listened a little bit earlier.”