Klea Hoxha and her family moved from Pogradec, Albania, to the United States when she was 15 years old. She was not fluent in English and not immersed in the culture. However, she applied for a research experience at the University of Coastal Carolina that she saw on a flyer in the office of her high school chemistry professor, though she doubted her admission.

“The professor saw something in me, and I was accepted into the program,” Khoja said. “That summer, I did research on phages, and I knew I wanted to come to Coastal Carolina.”

Since then, she has not stopped doing research in biomedical sciences.

Hoxha recently graduated with a major in Biochemistry and minors in Applied Mathematics and Physics. She has investigated the structures of small regulatory RNA molecules in lactic acid bacteria and has also done a separate physics project related to therapeutic radiation on tissues. In addition to her research, Hoxha has been president of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Club, vice president of the TriBeta Biology Honor Society, and founder and president of the ASBMB Student Chapter at CCU.

Khoja said she decided to set up an ASBMB branch in the fall 2019 semester because it defined a separation between what the university offers and what the student body needs when it comes to focusing on research. ASBMB highlights recent research articles and scholars, and she wanted to share that with her classmates.

Klea Hoxha presents her work on small regulatory RNA in Streptococcus at an undergraduate research competition at the University of Coastal Carolina in April.
Clea Hoxa

Klea Hoxha presents her work on small regulatory RNA in Streptococcus in
Undergraduate Research Competition at Coastal Carolina University in April.

“We have created a program for mentors and trainees,” Khoja said. “We matched senior students with new students based on their interests and personalities.”

This program has resulted in 80% of participating first year students finding a research advisor and participating in research.

ASBMB branch officers decided to pair freshmen with upper-class students rather than professors because first-year students are often nervous about getting to professors, Hoxa said. The pairing up of students made the process of finding a research job less intimidating—and led to a surge of interest in ASBMB. The former Hoxha intern has been elected as this year’s class president.

The CCU ASBMB Student Class hosts guest speakers on topics such as how to get accepted into graduate school, how to properly read a research paper, and how to apply to medical school. Hoxha also wanted to create a magazine club through class.

The branch also collaborated with TriBeta and the Sustainability Club to carry out beach cleanups in the area. Attendance at these events was high.

“You can meet people from different backgrounds,” Khoja said. “I personally learned a lot about sustainability from these events.”

Hoxha is now attending a doctoral program in medical physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is interested in research in immunotherapy, which focuses specifically on cancer therapies and radiochemistry.

Hoxha’s interests extend far beyond science. She is passionate about poetry and has written poetry since her freshman year of high school to help her overcome anxiety. One of her dreams is to compete in women’s fitness and weightlifting.

Her advice to undergraduates in biochemistry is to take a risk. “Do whatever you can and don’t stop trying,” she said. “If you find out what you don’t like, that’s the biggest step in figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life.”

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