Melissa Knouse '16 CLAS

Knouse with Dog

Hi! I’m Melissa Knouse and I’m a senior Psychology major with minors in Communication and Honors. As a Psychology major, I was exposed to behavioral research very early in my college career. I quickly realized that research was something I was incredibly passionate about—and what I hope to do in the future. Given this, I attempted to find summer behavioral research internships. 

In 2014, I stumbled across the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (WDC), a national research and development center for detection dogs at the University of Pennsylvania. My family raised seeing-eye dogs when I was a child, and I grew up wanting to be a veterinarian. When I discovered this opportunity for a summer internship, I was sold. The internship was unpaid, but the Villanova Career Center awarded me a donor-supported grant—making it possible to choose this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity over a traditional summer job.

I spent the summers before my junior and senior years at the WDC, working on projects ranging from training to cancer research. My second summer, I worked under a post-doctoral researcher on a project aimed at discovering compounds specific to ovarian cancer. To isolate these compounds, the WDC trains dogs to sniff out differences between plasma samples of women who have a malignant ovarian tumor, those who have a benign ovarian tumor and those who have never had any form of tumor. The goal is to discover an organic compound that is specific to malignant ovarian tumors.  If discovered, an “electronic nose” could be created to search for this compound in women.  Thus, doctors could detect ovarian cancer at a much earlier—and much more treatable—stage.       

I loved every second at the WDC. The dogs are absolutely incredible—they are working toward finding a way to earlier detect ovarian cancer because humans do not have the capability to do so alone.

Without the Career Center’s support, I would not have been able to continue with this unbelievable project. I am so grateful to the family that donated this stipend and to Villanova for choosing me over the past two summers.