In early December, Corbin Schuster had the most intense exam of his life, as he described it. On the morning of December 9, he defended his doctoral thesis before a committee of five professors from Oregon State University.
He knew them all, having worked with each while pursuing his graduate studies in microbiology. Seeing familiar faces didn’t make his 2:30 defense any easier.
With his successful thesis defense and graduation, he became Dr. Corbin Schuster. However, it didn’t take long to relax. Along with his research work for the Zebrafish International Resource Center at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Corbin recently began teaching an online science course at Heritage University in Toppenish.
And in the spring of 2023, Corbin will join the Heritage faculty as an assistant professor of microbiology. He has just started his two-year contract with the zebrafish center, so there will be some overlap there, he said.
It is important to him to share his love of science and research with others, especially Aboriginal youth.
“I really want to get more Indigenous representation in science. I have a passion for mentoring,” Corbin said. “I spend a lot of time working with different students off the clock, getting them interested in science and higher education in general.”
Corbin was raised in Toppenish, the son of Regina Hernandez and Willy Schuster, also of Toppenish, and graduated from Zillah High School in 2012. He is a citizen of the Yakama Nation with family ties to the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs in the ‘Oregon.
A scientific career was not always on his radar. Corbin had considered teaching, criminal justice and business. Once he started taking classes at Heritage, his future became a priority. Two heritage professors, Drs. Michael Parra and Robert Kao were particularly influential, Corbin said.
“They really got me interested in research and encouraged me to do an internship,” Corbin said. His internship in molecular biology at Washington State University began in 2016 with a study of genes resistant to certain plant pathogens.
He graduated from Heritage in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences. Also that year, Corbin completed a 10-week internship at the National Institutes of Health, at its National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. There he studied the impact of high-fat diets on dietary failures.
Postgraduate work took Corbin to Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. He thanked Elese Washines of Yakama Nation Higher Education for her support in his success there, and mentioned his grandparents, Elmer and Cleda Schuster.
As noted in a 2021 online profile shared by the State of Oregon, Schuster is interested in studying human diseases that have a higher incidence among Indigenous peoples, such as toxoplasmosis (a parasitic infection), as well as salmon diseases, which are central to the food, culture and religion of the Yakama people.
“My ideal big dream is to create a research program here at Heritage with OSU and WSU to get graduates into research,” he said. “We no longer need to leave the valley to do this work, and I truly believe in this mission.”
Corbin is currently working on a public health project centered on COVID-19, specifically the loss of smell and taste in relation to race and social status. An international investigation is underway and the results are expected to be released this year or early next year, Corbin said.
He recently returned to the Yakama reserve to see his family. His schedule is quite flexible and he often works during his weekends. So when he can, Corbin takes a day off during the week for his favorite hobbies.
“I like hiking and fishing, Columbia fly fishing or traditional fishing,” he said.
Profession: Research scientist at the Zebrafish International Resource Center at the University of Oregon in Eugene; adjunct professor at Heritage University in Toppenish