Future Doctor Finds Passion for Research

Future Doctor Finds Passion for Research

Undergraduate Eliza Klos has already crafted a sturdy foundation to flourish as a physician. 

One of Klos’ first pivotal steps when she got to Binghamton University was declaring a major in neuroscience — an interesting choice for a pre-health student. Klos said she sought a concentration that would allow her to learn about people holistically. 

“I wanted something that was going to be different,” says Klos, a member of the class of 2024. “I like that (neuroscience) is interdisciplinary and it involves more than just biology. It has more of a human-basis so it’s been a really good fit for me so far.”

The next step Klos took was getting involved in research early — even before getting into college.  Klos grew up in Buffalo, which is where she discovered her passion for helping others. Through a high school summer program at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Institute, Klos was able to gain her first taste of what it would mean to be a physician and a researcher. She was given an independent project where she examined a type of cancer called mantle cell lymphoma, which targets the lymphatic system. 

“The summer before my senior year, I worked in a lymphoma and myeloma cancer research lab,” Klos recalls. “My research focused on examining a potential mechanism for resistance of the cancer to chemotherapy drugs. If the pathway can be discovered, it could be targeted with drugs, hopefully eliminating the problem of resistance.”

As a First-Year Research Immersion Program (FRI) participant and a member of Binghamton University’s Scholars Program, Klos has had plenty of research experiences since then. For FRI, her project focused on creating a novel model of the effect coronavirus-related stress had on children. Their chosen schematic? Rats.

“This was the first time this project was done in the neuroscience stream,” Klos says. “Really we were trying to find a way to model what that kind of stress that came for kids during the time of COVID-19 would look like in rats. So that involved socially isolating the rats for short periods of time and then analyzing both their behavior and their neurochemistry.” 

Following her last semester in FRI, Klos knew she wanted to continue doing research, so she emailed several professors with similar interests. That’s how she landed her next research opportunity as an undergraduate research assistant in Assistant Professor Laura Cook’s biology lab. 

The lab’s main focus is on streptococcus A, the bacteria that may cause strep throat symptoms in some patients, but not in others. It’s important to understand differences between bacteria that require treatment and those that don’t. As a means to deter the onset of antibiotic resistance, physicians need to be able to narrow down whether certain patients need to be prescribed antibiotics, even despite their strep tests coming back positive.

Within the Cook lab, Klos is something of a head researcher, helping with the organization of the lab’s undergraduates, training them and keeping Cook informed on their progress. According to Cook, she’s also in charge of collecting samples, testing them, reporting all the data and forming training initiatives. 

“She’s a leader, both socially and scientifically,” Cook says. “We had some issues with contamination, especially with all of the new workers, but she’s been helping us troubleshoot that. She streamlined the undergraduates and their processes, taught them sterile technique and suggested training. She always goes above and beyond!”

Klos serves as the vice president of the American Medical Women’s Association on campus. It’s an organization devoted to advancing women and others in medical careers. 

“It’s really meant for anyone who has an interest in medicine, whether they’re hoping to go into medicine or just find it interesting,” Klos says. “We try to be open to everyone.”

Klos’ antibiotics research did not stop in the Cook lab. As a university scholar, she had access to the Guthrie Scholars Premedical Internship, where besides helping with research, she also had the chance to shadow different doctors and present a research lecture before a panel. Her main focus for the lecture was her collaboration with an orthopedic surgeon, studying the necessity of antibiotics among elective foot and ankle surgery patients.

“One of my favorite things [about research] has been communicating it to other people,” Klos says. “I’ve done quite a few presentations and a pretty big research lecture at Guthrie, and it’s very exciting to share the research I’ve been working on. I’m very proud of all of it and it’s so nice to get positive feedback and bounce ideas off of different people who are even more knowledgeable than I am.”

While she isn’t set on any one medical career yet, Klos knows medical school is her next step following graduation. Anesthesiology has been the most interesting focus for her, given the personable nature of the position.

“Being an anesthesiologist involves talking with patients at a high-stress time for them, so you have to focus on making sure patients are comfortable,” Klos says. “It’s been one of my favorite specialties so far, but I still have more to explore.”

Written by: Blessin McFarlane for Binghampton University; used with permission. Find the original article here.

From a dream to a double major and prestigious honor thanks to Undergraduate Research

From a dream to a double major and prestigious honor thanks to Undergraduate Research

Allyson Thompson has always felt at home hiking in a prairie.

To her, life is better lived along a winding path. So it’s almost fitting that her path to NIU involved several twists and turns.

Thompson had a child at age 19, dropped out of high school, earned her GED and worked an office job for about a decade before pursuing her dream career of wildlife preservation and conservation.

“It feels like a calling,” said Thompson, who began spending time in nature as a boisterous child to avoid being bullied. “I played in the prairie, caught caterpillars and picked flowers instead of playing with other kids… My whole life I’ve always had an affinity for nature.”

If all goes as planned, the 34-year-old University Honors student will graduate next May with a double major in environmental studies and biological sciences.

As proud as Thompson is of everything she’s accomplished so far, she never thought she’d qualify to become a Yale Conservation Scholar this summer.

NIU Professor Holly Jones and Thompson’s mentor, Ph.D. candidate Erin Rowland-Schaefer, thought otherwise. With their encouragement, Thompson applied and earned the distinction.

She will spend the summer at a wildlife sanctuary in Sharon, Conn., as an intern in the Yale Conservation Scholars – Early Leadership Initiative (YCS-ELI) internship program. Part of the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Sustainability Initiative at the Yale School of the Environment, the program provides opportunities for undergraduates who are traditionally underrepresented in the conservation field.

“Allyson has boundless energy, excitement and expertise to bring to this internship,” said Jones, who works with Thompson in her Evidence-Based Restoration Lab. Thompson joined the lab as a Research Rookie during her first year at NIU.

“All she needed from me as a mentor was a small push in the direction of applying. She did the rest and I’m so excited to see where this opportunity takes her,” said Jones, who holds a joint appointment at NIU in Biological Sciences and the Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability and Energy.

Thompson will take part in a two-day orientation in May before starting a nine-week internship at the wildlife sanctuary of the National Audubon Society in Sharon, Conn. The YCS-ELI program provides living stipends and a salary for interns to work directly with environmental professionals. Scholars can return for a second year to intern with a different organization, laboratory or field site.

“I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to look like once I get there, but in terms of the job itself, it feels like home,” said Thompson, who’d like to become a wildlife conservationist working to help endangered or threatened species. She also enjoys land management.

“I want to get out and get my hands dirty as often as I can,” she said. “This opportunity is just going to open so many doors for me in the future so that I can actually make a difference.”

Now living in Sycamore, Thompson spent her middle school years in Woodstock, Ill. Growing up, she’d watch the late Steve Irwin, known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” and documentaries on animals and nature. Today, she ends her emails with the Irwin quote: “If we save our wild places, we will ultimately save ourselves.”

“It’s my calling to help repair the damage that’s been done in little ways that make a big difference so when I leave I’ve left a legacy I can be proud of and I’ve done my part,” said Thompson, who hopes to set a good example for her now nearly 16-year-old child.

She decided to pursue her career path during the pandemic.

“I just basically looked at my life and was like, ‘Am I happy? Is this what I want to do? Is this the example I want to set for my child?’ The brass tacks answer was no,” she remembered.

She eventually earned two associate’s degrees at Kishwaukee College before transferring to NIU. Before enrolling, she’d already read papers written by Professor Jones “just because I’m kind of nerdy and I really admired her work,” she said.

She learned about Research Rookies during orientation and immediately sought to become part of Jones’ lab. It took some convincing when Jones first approached her about the Yale program because she said she felt a bit of the imposter syndrome, as if she wasn’t worthy. The application required essays and a curriculum vitae she had yet to create.

With the backing of Jones and Rowland-Schaefer, she said she just “laid it all out there.” She wrote about being adopted as a child, her Native American roots and her experiences as a teen mom parenting her child, who identifies as gender queer and uses they/them/their pronouns.

“I really had to ask myself, ‘Do I have what it takes to represent NIU as a Yale Conservation Scholar and how can I do that in the best way possible?’ I guess they liked my answers,” Thompson said.

She now finds herself nervous, but eagerly anticipating the summer.

“This type of opportunity will be transformational for Allyson,” Jones said. “She will have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded scholars who are underrepresented in conservation, and to get critical hands-on experience. She was already bound to be a trailblazer in her future career; this will help launch her even further.”

Written by: Nothern Illinois University; used with permission. Find the original article here.

Utah State Sends 12 to Present at Conference for English Majors

Utah State Sends 12 to Present at Conference for English Majors

USU’s English Department was well-represented at the annual Sigma Tau Delta Convention in Denver, Colorado, from March 29-April 1 with 12 undergraduate participants from four different campuses. The Sigma Tau Delta Convention is the largest organization in the country dedicated to supporting undergraduate research and professional development for English majors. About 1,000 students attend from all over the country. In addition to workshops about leadership, editing, publishing, and teaching, students present their creative and critical projects and hear from major authors. Dakota Mecham, from the Vernal campus, says of her experience, “I had so much fun at convention and learned so much! From breakout sessions on Frankenstein to heartfelt discussions on how we can change what our future looks like, it was a full four days. I met students from around the country to talk about the future of English and the Humanities. It re-energized me for school and gave me inspiration to continue on in my degree.” 

This year’s featured writer was Brenda Peynado, who authored the short story collection, The Rock Eaters, which explored themes of immigration, belonging, gender, identity, class, and political action. Two groups of USU students focused their research on Peynado’s book. Vanessa Garcia-Vazquez, Amanda Gromanchy, Ericka Stone, Basil Payne, and Ashleigh Lyon presented their roundtable discussion, “Insiders and Outsiders in The Rock Eaters,” with Professor Christine Cooper-Rompato acting as faculty moderator. Jenny Carpenter, Dakota Mecham, Aimee Olson, Beth Pace, and Preston Waddoups presented their roundtable discussion, “Sticks and Stones: Politics in The Rock Eaters,” with Associate Professor Michaelann Nelson acting as faculty moderator. Jimmy Shupe, from the Brigham City campus, presented his essay, “Jane Austen and Feminism,” which originated in Professor Alan Blackstock’s class and argues that Jane Austen’s work, especially Persuasion, portrays proto-feminist ideals. Preston Waddoups, from the Logan campus, presented his essay, “The Aesthetic Philosophy of Anna Karenina,” which also originated in Alan’s class and argues that the novel conveys Tolstoy’s very specific ideas about the aesthetic function of art in society.  

Ericka Stone, from the Logan campus, presented her essay, “Value in Cabeza De Vaca and Lalami’s Accounts,” which originated in Professor Keri Holt’s class and explores the differing perspectives of Estebanico, an enslaved Moroccan who survived Cabaza de Vaca’s North American expedition, in de Vaca’s original account and in the retelling in Laila Lalami’s The Moore’s Account. She says of this experience, “The Sigma Tau Delta Convention was a great opportunity to hear from authors about their work and to learn what English students across the country are reading and writing about. It was also so fun to experience Denver with my fellow USU students and make new friends.” 

Additionally, Shaun Anderson, an alum of USU and member of the alumni chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, won the Alumni Award of $250 for his creative work, “Labor of Language.” Jack Bylund, an English Department graduate student in creative writing, also presented “The Profound Deaths.” 

Two USU teams, comprised of students and faculty, also competed in Literary Trivia Night against hundreds of other English students and faculty from around the country. They won first place in two of the three rounds! Not only did they win gift cards to a local bookstore, but they also won bragging rights about the outstanding literary program USU has.

Written by: Utah State University; used with permission. Find the original article here.

Triple-Major Undergraduate Researcher Becomes OSU’s 30th Goldwater Scholar

Triple-Major Undergraduate Researcher Becomes OSU’s 30th Goldwater Scholar

It is not every day that you meet a student like Alex Bias.

Bias is a senior at Oklahoma State University and is triple majoring in chemical engineering, mathematics and political science.

She first became passionate about research as a high school junior. She has worked in four labs during her time at OSU and currently works on computational chemistry alongside Dr. Christopher Fennell, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“I first got involved with computational chemistry research in 2020 while looking for research that I could continue during the pandemic,” Bias said. “I was a bit nervous about getting into a project so heavily focused on computer programming, as I had little to no experience with coding, but I quickly fell in love with the problem solving and logic involved.”

Fennell noted the significance of Bias’ willingness and drive to get involved in research early on in her college career. He described Bias as intelligent, adaptable and ambitious.

“Computational chemistry is usually something students may get involved with in a class later on,” Fennell said. “Alex was able to pick this up right away.”

Bias’ research within the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) assisted her in being named OSU’s 30th Goldwater Scholar. The Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship is a prestigious award that was established by Congress in 1986 to support outstanding undergraduate researchers on their path to become highly-qualified future professionals. Out of 1,242 applicants from 433 institutions, Bias was selected. The Goldwater Scholarship opens many doors to Bias as a researcher.

“In computational chemistry, resources are limited because running simulations takes time. If you are running a simulation of a protein in water, you want most of the time for the simulation to be taken by interactions of the protein,” Bias said. “You definitely don’t want to have hours of your simulation taken up by water solvent moving around.”

Bias’ research explores how to address this problem of inefficiency: “My specific project is creating a single-point model for water using spherical harmonic interaction functions,” Bias said. “This calculation allows a water model to be built up from the fundamental interactions that guide its behavior and has the potential for a more efficient and more effective model. The resources required for this model are reduced by a degree of magnitude from the commonly used three-point models (one point for each atom). Using this style of model for water alone is exciting, but perhaps more exciting is the potential to scale up to larger compounds.”

Bias will graduate in spring 2023 and will then pursue a Master’s of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge on behalf of a W.W. Allen Scholarship from Oklahoma State University.  She plans to let her time abroad determine the next steps in her career.

To utilize all three of her majors, Bias would like to look at the way foreign policy is constructed through a lens with math and science. The idea of law school was mentioned, but Bias said she may just do research forever because of her love for it.

Written by: Kalynn Schwandt for Oklahoma State University News; used with permission. Find the original article here.

Undergraduate Research Project Finds Elusive European Yeast for Lager Beer

Undergraduate Research Project Finds Elusive European Yeast for Lager Beer

A new paper in FEMS Yeast Research reports that, for the first time in Europe, scientists have discovered the ancestor of the yeast species necessary for the production of lager beer.

Brewing is one of the oldest human industries. Scientists have uncovered evidence of fermented beverages from China from at least 7,000 years ago, and from Israel from up to 13,000 years ago. Modern brewing developed in Europe, where until the Middle Ages, most beer brewing was associated with a yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This is the same species of yeast that is still used today to make ale-style beer, wine, and bread.

Most beer made nowadays, however, is lager beer, not ale, and there is considerable interest in understanding the historical shift from ale to lager in Europe. Lager brewing, which first appeared in the 13th century in Bavaria, uses a different species of yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus.

S. pastorianus is a hybrid of two parents, only one of which is S. cerevisiae. The identity of the second parent was a mystery until 2011, when Saccharomyces eubayanus was discovered in the Patagonian Andes in South America. Like S. pastorianus, S. eubayanus is cold-tolerant, and scientists believe that the lager-style of cold brewing was selected for the formation of the S. pastorianus hybrid yeast from an ale strain of S. cerevisiae and a wild S. eubayanus isolate.

Although the records show that the first use of S. pastorianus was in breweries in southern Germany, the S. eubayanus parent was never found in Europe. Instead, researchers have discovered the yeast in South America, North America, China, Tibet, and New Zealand. This curiosity caused some researchers to wonder whether S. eubayanus had, in fact, ever been in Europe, and if not, from where the lager yeast S. pastorianus had come. But most recently, researchers at University College Dublin have discovered and isolated S. eubayanus in a wooded area of their campus.

The Irish researchers isolated two different S. eubayanus strains, from soil samples collected on the Belfield campus of University College Dublin, as part of undergraduate research projects to identify wild yeasts and sequence their genomes. The isolates came from soil on two sites on the university campus, about 17 meters apart, collected in September 2021. The genome sequences of these two isolates showed that they are related to the ancestral S. eubayanus strain that initially mated with S. cerevisiae to form S. pastorianus.

The discovery of S. eubayanus in Ireland shows that this yeast is native to Europe and it seems likely that it has lived in other parts of the continent. This new study supports the view that there were natural populations of the yeast in southern Germany in the Middle Ages and these provided the parents of the first lager yeast. The question of whether these ancient populations still remain hidden somewhere in the forests of Bavaria remains to be answered.

“This discovery is a fantastic example of research-led teaching,” said the paper’s lead author, Geraldine Butler. “Our undergraduates have found more than a hundred yeast species in Irish soil samples over the past five years, and we’re delighted to stumble across S. eubayanus on our own doorstep. We’re hoping to find a commercial partner to brew with it so we can find out what it tastes like.”

Written by: Oxford University Press for Phys.org. Find the original article here.

Undergrad researchers results reveal how water shortages can affect wildlife abundance

Undergrad researchers results reveal how water shortages can affect wildlife abundance

The Santa Cruz River hasn’t been a reliable source of water since European settlers changed the sustainable water use patterns of Indigenous people like the Hohokam in the late 1800s. Even before large farms began overdrawing from its sources in Arizona, the river water often dried up for entire seasons. Since the 1950s, until more recently, projects around Tucson have partly or fully restored water flow in some areas, but many parts of the riverbed still remain entirely dry year round.

Undergraduate researchers wanted to determine the effects that differences in water flow had on reptile and amphibian species richness and abundance. TWS member Riley Gallagher, an undergraduate student in rangeland management at the University of Arizona, and her colleagues surveyed four sites along the Santa Cruz River—some dry and some restored—around Tucson. Every other weekend, from February 2021 to August 2022, a team of students organized by the local TWS student chapter at the University of Arizona—would walk along both banks of the river, noting every species they came across.

“Everyone had a good understanding of the species that were there,” said Gallagher, vice president of the student chapter.

One of the sites had been restored perennially since the 1950s, while another was restored 3.5 years before the study period. A third site had water restored halfway through the study period, while the last site remained completely dry except for during the seasonal monsoons.

In a poster presented at The Wildlife Society’s 2022 Annual Conference in Spokane, the researchers found a total of 20 species of reptiles and amphibians at all of the sites. These included various species of whiptails, some that were hard to categorize due to interbreeding, and other species of lizards, snakes, turtles and toads. There were also invasive species like red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) and American bullfrogs (Lithobates catesbeianus), which outcompete the local Sonoran Desert toad (Incilius alvarius). But some sites had more species richness and abundance than others.

The western whiptail (Cnemidophorus tigris) was the most abundant species found at all sites. But that lizard was mostly found in highest abundance at the site that had 70 years of water. The common side-blotched lizard (Uta stansburiana) was the species seen most often at the other three sites.

The least abundant species overall were the red-eared slider, Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and the spiny softshell turtle (Apalone spinifera)—all nonnative species.

The best two sites for both species richness and abundance were the two that had water restored earlier. The site with 70 years of water and the site with 3.5 years of water both had 16 species of reptiles and amphibians, though these species weren’t exactly the same at each.

The site with water restored halfway through the study period saw a small change in species richness. The surveyors observed 11 species before and 13 species after.

“We didn’t see a huge increase in the species that were observed after the water was introduced,” Gallagher said. “It does take some time for species to become reestablished in the area.”

Many species were only found at wet sites. Those included the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), Clark’s spiny lizard (Sceloporus magister), California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae), red spotted toad (Anaxyrus punctatus), checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus) and spiny softshell turtle.

The dry riverbed only had seven species of reptiles and amphibians and none that weren’t also found at wet sites.

Gallagher said that these results reveal how water shortages, which many parts of the Southwest are experiencing, can affect wildlife richness and abundance. But water restoration projects appeared to improve this particular situation, though it took some time before species abundances caught up.

“Introducing effluent flow into a dry river can help increase species richness and abundance in an area,” Gallagher said.

Written by: Joshua Rapp Learn for The Wildlife Society; used with permission. Find the original article here.

Summer REU in the Philippines Opens Researcher’s Eyes, Purdue University

Summer REU in the Philippines Opens Researcher’s Eyes, Purdue University

Casey McGill heard about the Plant Science for Global Food Security (PSGFS) program from Professor Diane Wang during the spring 2022 semester. “PSGFS seemed like the type of experience that many students seek out,” says McGill, senior in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology. “The opportunity to travel abroad during the summer semester, a learning experience and paid for!”

Led by Purdue, PSGFS is a six-week research and study program at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines. The program has two components: three weeks of research evaluating diverse rice accessions under the guidance of an IRRI scientist/team, and an intensive three-week course on Rice Research to Production (RR2P), which provides significant field research and field trips to some of the most beautiful locations in the country. Students are recruited from Purdue as well as five of the partner institutions including North Carolina A & T University, Florida A &M University, University of Illinois, Tuskegee University, and University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. All expenses are paid for by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

“We’re grateful that we were able to carry out the inaugural year of the program this past summer, as the IRRI was just beginning to lift restrictions from the pandemic,” explains Diane Wang, assistant professor in the Department of Agronomy and the project’s principal investigator.

Casey McGill was the only student from Purdue that attended the 2022 program, and not only was it her first time traveling abroad but it was her first time flying on an airplane.

“The entire experience was eye opening,” says McGill. “Some of my most memorable highlights were exploring the city, experiencing a different culture, and gaining a completely new perspective.”

After the summer 2022 program, a study funded by a CILMAR seed grant and conducted by the Evaluation and Learning Research Center revealed students gained an awareness of cultural influences on work habits and values in an international setting.

“Enhancing intercultural competencies and building international research capacities are such important goals in our work,” says Gary Burniske, assistant program director with Purdue’s International Programs in Agriculture (IPIA). “We’re anxious to recruit Purdue students because this is such a great opportunity to work with scientists and researchers from around the world.”

Written by: Nyssa Lilovich for the College of Agriculture at Purdue University; used with permission. Find the original article here.

First-Gen Student’s Interest in Bugs Leads to Research, Lab Internship, and TA Opportunity

First-Gen Student’s Interest in Bugs Leads to Research, Lab Internship, and TA Opportunity

For Eric Escobar-Chena, the best part of attending Virginia Commonwealth University was his last couple years in school. That’s when he had the opportunity to get more involved in the Insect Ecology and Behavior Laboratory, sometimes known as VCU’s “Bug Lab,” run by biology professor Karen Kester, Ph.D. It was in that lab that he discovered a “deep respect for insects.”

“Insects became interesting to me once I learned how unique and specific their roles in ecology can be,” he said.

Escobar-Chena — a biology major in the College of Humanities and Sciences who will graduate in December — is a teaching assistant this semester for a lab section of an entomology course. In September, he contributed to a French-led study involving parasitic wasps. And he’s investigating graduate school opportunities in ecology with a focus on field work and beetles, which he admires for their “impact on their environments and their overall robustness.”

“Eric is delightful. He is a highly intelligent person with a talent for creative problem-solving. He is a natural leader and has an amazing work ethic,” Kester said. “Foremost, he is passionate about ecology and entomology. Also, he is a generous human being with a great sense of humor.”

Escobar-Chena is a founder and the current president of the student organization Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability, or VCU SEEDS, which is a chapter of the Ecological Society of America and that aims to diversify and advance the ecology profession through opportunities that stimulate and nurture the interest of underrepresented students to participate in ecology and become leaders in the field.

“What stands out about Eric is his genuine curiosity for the natural world and his ability to welcome others into science,” said Catherine Hulshof, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Biology. “He’s one of those students you know will go on to advance and change the discipline of ecology. I can’t wait to see what incredible things he will continue to accomplish in his career.”

Kester and Hulshof have been important mentors for Escobar-Chena, he said.

“While I didn’t really have a plan for much of college, people like Dr. Kester and Dr. Hulshof have given me spectacular opportunities for improving myself and given me the push I need in order to continue to do so,” he said.

Escobar-Chena is both a first-generation U.S. citizen and a first-generation college student.

“Even though my parents didn’t really have much coming to this country from Paraguay, I like to think I had a fairly normal upbringing,” he said. “My family lived in the suburbs, and my two sisters and I made our way through public schools fine. However, my parents have worked incredibly hard to ensure we have access to what we need in order to thrive.”

Being a first-generation college student was a bit of a bigger challenge while pursuing his degree, he said, but it ultimately worked out thanks to hard work, perseverance and the support of friends, family and VCU.

“For the first couple years it felt as if I was wandering aimlessly through college,” he said. “However, as the years passed and with a lot of support from family, friends, and mentors, things felt easier and I eventually found my place.”

Throughout much of his time at VCU, Escobar-Chena held a number of jobs on top of keeping up with school.

During his freshman and sophomore years, he worked at an ice cream shop while also interning in Kester’s lab. His junior year, he started working in the Bug Lab through a work-study opportunity, though it closed temporarily during COVID-19.

During the pandemic, he worked various odd jobs, including selling homemade bread and desserts from home, construction with his father and as a delivery driver.

After getting vaccinated, he started working at Costco, returned to work at the Bug Lab and started working as a teaching assistant at VCU.

“It’s been a grind but at this point I am more accustomed to always being busy than having time off,” he said. “There were most definitely times that got overwhelming, but I always think about how much my parents have gone through and the ridiculous amount of work they’ve done to give us a life in the U.S. so I try not to let it affect my school life.”

As a TA in entomology, Escobar-Chena is teaching for the first time and has found it to be greatly gratifying.

“It’s been incredibly fun to watch people grow more and more fond of bugs,” he said.

Following graduation, Escobar-Chena is looking forward to attending grad school and pursuing research opportunities in the field.

“I have always loved field work,” he said, “So long term I want to be able to support myself while being able to spend most of my time out in nature.”

Written by: Brian McNeill for VCU News at Virginia Commonwealth University; used with permission. Find the original article here.

Norwich University Announced as 2022 CUR AURA Recipient

Norwich University Announced as 2022 CUR AURA Recipient

The Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) congratulates its 2022 Campus-Wide Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments (AURA) recipient Norwich University (NU) (Northfield, VT). This award recognizes institutions with exemplary programs that provide high-quality research experiences for undergraduates.

Now in its eighth year, the AURA award draws on CUR’s Characteristics of Excellence in Undergraduate Research (COEUR), which outlines criteria for exceptional undergraduate research, scholarship, and creative activity programs. For AURA recognition, campuses must demonstrate depth and breadth in their undergraduate research initiatives and evidence of continual innovation.

“Norwich University’s steadfast commitment to undergraduate research is reflected through much more than just their campus culture,” said Lindsay Currie, CUR’s executive officer. “They demonstrate a dedication to the professional growth of students and faculty across all disciplines, commitment to ensuring diverse populations have opportunities for success through grants, and the power of a mission driven institution.”

As a primarily undergraduate institution, NU’s 200-year-old mission centralizes leadership and experiential learning, putting undergraduate research at the heart of this campus’ culture. Continuing this theme through data, 70% of faculty mentor undergraduate research, with a promising 98% of faculty interested in getting involved with mentoring student researchers. NU also prides themselves in their diverse undergraduate population with 30.5% minority and 17.5% first generation rates. To allow their program to continue to grow and excel, NU strives to make their program accessible to all interested students by offering high funding rates for student grants, no minimum GPA requirements, flexible timelines for summer research, the ability to revise and resubmit promising proposals, a competitive salary that supports economic considerations, and events that include both classroom and independent research opportunities. In fact, NU has awarded 261 travel grants totaling around $200,000 since 2003.

Dr. Karen Gaines, Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Norwich University explained, “Norwich University is known for fostering future leaders and has been teaching students to “act as well as to think” for over 200 years. Our Undergraduate Research Program focuses on experiential learning so that students, alongside faculty mentors, can put the skills learned in the classroom into action to solve our pressing global challenges and expand humanity’s knowledge of our world.  We are humbled to receive national recognition for the program we have built over the past twenty years. We are proud that our program embodies the core Norwich values of service, leadership, and collaboration and provides opportunities for students to engage in research and creative work across all academic disciplines.”

“Participating in undergraduate research transforms the way students view themselves, their academic field, and the generation of knowledge,” states Dr. Allison Neal, Undergraduate Research Program Director at Norwich University. “We are dedicated to making undergraduate research central to the Norwich experience and accessible to all of our students.  We are incredibly grateful to the Council on Undergraduate Research for recognizing our program, and we hope that the increased prominence and visibility this award gives our program will help us build and strengthen our program’s offerings, increase the number of students served, and continue to provide transformative experiences for our developing student scholars.”

CUR congratulates Norwich University on its exemplary implementation of various programs advocating for undergraduate research and the success of its students, faculty, mentors, and administrators. Please join CUR and the undergraduate research community in celebrating their achievements on June 13, 2023, from 2:00-3:30PM ET. Details on RSVPs will be released in the coming weeks.  

Meeting My Role Model Scientist

Meeting My Role Model Scientist

As a first-generation student, finding opportunity has been difficult. On top of that, I have really big dreams, so it becomes essential. Tenacity is my only chance. Let us never underestimate how much one person can influence an entire field.

As a young kid, I was inspired by a particular scientist in my field; she is known for her research in molecular neuropsychiatry. I’ve been reading her research for years, and back then it was a necessity for me because it’s often what kept me wanting to wake up the next day. I had a long abusive childhood and was denied so much opportunity, but I was determined to someday find my niche, and every time I read her works I felt like there was hope. Dr. Brennand was by far my greatest role model and favorite scientist.

Last November, I joined a virtual open house for the Yale Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program. This is a webinar for seniors or people in gap years applying to the graduate school for neuroscience. Of course, I was an undergraduate sophomore so I had no real place in being there, except I wanted to network and get to know my future. What can I say, I’ve always dreamed of being a Yale student.

In the webinar, they mentioned Dr. Kristen Brennand and her work, but she was absent. My automatic first thought was, The Kristen Brennand?! The one I’ve admired for so many years? The one who’s always so ahead?! Dr. Brennand has a tendency to publish well ahead of other scientists in her field. Read works of others in this area and they connect point A to point B or maybe even C, which is great and is new information, but when Dr. Brennand releases something she tends to connect everything through E or F. Honestly, it’s kind of scary to think where psychiatry would be if she wasn’t involved.

Anyway, I found out Dr. Brennand had moved her lab from New York to Yale, and it took me two months to gather the courage to email her. Should I express that I’m her biggest fan? No, I should wait. I had never been hesitant to seek an opportunity, so this feeling was a first. Through communicating with her, I obtained the opportunity to visit her lab over the summer, which honestly just made my world, but it marked a special place in my journey I’ll never forget and it’s what causes me to inspire others.

Prior to this internship, I was never a publicity person. I wanted my privacy. Upon receipt of the opportunity, everybody at my home university went crazy and celebrated along with me because no one from my school had ever received such a prestigious opportunity since the founding of my school in 1887. But I felt a feeling I had never felt before, that I never knew existed, that I can’t put into words… Imagine praying for something, hoping for it with all your heart for so many years, and all of a sudden everything you’ve ever asked for and dreamed of gets placed into the palm of your hand. This was how I felt, it was an amazing feeling, and what hit me was the realization that most people never even get to experience this feeling because they don’t dream big. Wow. Well this made me want to help others obtain that feeling even just once in their lives, so I put aside my selfish desires and decided I did want to start inspiring others.

At Yale over the summer, I cared more than anything about what Dr. Brennand thought of me. I had never been a people pleaser and usually am a very independent thinker, but what my idol concluded was very important to me. Dr. Brennand was the future me – hopefully! Honestly, if I become half the scientist Dr. Brennand is, I will be really impressed and will have lived the best life I could live.

My post-doctoral mentor brought it to my attention: I shouldn’t let myself be dictated by what one person thinks. He quickly saw my admiration for Dr. Brennand and determined that it might be a little unhealthy. My love for neuroscience really rose to the surface, though, so much that it caused me to change institutions and become a neuroscience student immediately.

In the Brennand lab the imposter syndrome for me was very real. I felt like I didn’t belong and like I had been given a favor due to being tenacious, or stubborn. The funny thing is that I went to Harvard afterward and never felt that way and wouldn’t have felt it in any other lab. It really was the fact that I was working under the scientist who brought me into science and whose work had inspired me for ten years to be what I want to be, and how was I to inform her of this without being weird? I asked her to sign her doctoral dissertation, which I had ordered a few years prior. I thought, Well, as great a scientist as she is, she was bound to have a rabid fan sooner or later at some point. Dr. Brennand is one of the most humble and down-to-earth people I know, especially to have accomplished all that she has, and it never phases her when she’s recognized and she gives credit to everyone else –  I mean, even in her dissertation she specifies that at one point she thought she wouldn’t complete grad school – but if she’s honest she can probably admit that it’s no surprise she has a fanbase.

I am at Harvard now in a neuroscience lab thanks to her recommendation as well as her advice for me to try something new: an animal model or a computational project. I value her advice greatly, so I took on both at once and am very thankful to be here at Harvard studying neuroscience.

The purpose of writing this experience is to speak to researchers and students alike. You never know whom you might inspire and what that person may accomplish, so when you teach and research, do it with a passion. Love what you do because you don’t know if the next Nobel Prize winner or face of the field might be your biggest fan.

Written by: Brianna Trippe; used with permission.