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Wayne State University

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Students experience real-world research through Wayne State University summer programs

October 7, 2011

A number of local students, along with their peers from institutions in other parts of the country, are beginning the fall semester with a real-world understanding of research after spending the summer at Wayne State University.

That understanding came through participation in programs like the physiology department's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship; the Cancer Biology Graduate Program at the School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute (KCI); and the Summer Undergraduate Research Program of the Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics. Organizers say all three programs offer students at WSU and around the country a chance to engage in full-time academic research while showcasing Wayne State as a possible venue for their graduate education - all while earning a stipend.

Fellows in all three summer programs - and similar ones throughout Wayne State - learn how to analyze, interpret and communicate scientific research results from their own experiments. The programs' organizers say young scientists who are given research opportunities like these often go on to pursue careers in scientific investigation.

"These programs are an excellent way for Wayne State to fulfill one of its key roles as an urban research university," said Joseph Dunbar, Ph.D., WSU associate vice president for research. "Because many students who participate are from other institutions, they can help WSU carry its reputation for real-world research well outside southeast Michigan."

Some participants have enrolled in Wayne State graduate programs after the summer sessions, but even those who continue their higher education elsewhere say they are better for their time here.  The programs give them a chance to work on projects with mentors, peers, graduate students and research faculty; they also afford opportunities to give oral and visual presentations of their work in a professional setting.

Chris Nevitt, a senior chemistry major at the University of Louisville, recently returned there after working on the molecular mechanisms of cancer progression with Malathy Shekhar, Ph.D., associate professor of oncology in WSU's School of Medicine and a member of the breast cancer biology, molecular biology and genetics departments at KCI. Nevitt plans to apply to WSU's cancer biology graduate program once he graduates.

"Dr. Shekhar showed me how to compile work into a cohesive paper," he said. "I got a better idea of how the science community works together, and also how to make a plan and go forward with the work."

Time with graduate students - including some who presented lectures - and other faculty also gave Nevitt a clearer view of the academic research process and its applications.

"I got to experience doctors' grand rounds. That introduced me to a lot of new topics," he said. "My knowledge of what's going on in the field really increased. I feel confident that I can go into another molecular biology lab and be of use to the team there."

Audrey Turchick, who recently returned to Clemson University, worked in the laboratory of Izabela Podgorski, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology in WSU's School of Medicine, investigating the role of heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) in prostate and breast cancer cell lines.

"Although this program only lasted 10 weeks, this experience was more rewarding than I could have ever anticipated," Turchick said. "The techniques I mastered during this time were all things that I had learned about in classes throughout college but never had the opportunity to directly utilize before."

She also sought out additional professionals at KCI who impacted her summer experience, observing the clinical trials of Dr. Elisabeth Heath, WSU assistant professor of hematology/oncology, who works with Podgorski to extend information acquired in laboratory experiments.

"I had the opportunity to see firsthand how research directly translates to potential new treatments," Turchick said. "Through this experience I was fortunate enough to participate in riveting research and was personally impacted by patients who would not be alive today had it not been for advancements in medical research."

Organizers say the programs, which range from 10 to 12 weeks on average, are a good way to expose undergraduate students to what graduate education is all about, allowing them to see if it's something they want to pursue.

"These programs enable faculty members to continue moving the process of scientific research forward by engaging students early in their academic careers," Dunbar said. "They also provide a valuable source of new students for our graduate programs and those of other institutions, enhancing Wayne State's efforts to conduct research that makes a difference in the surrounding community and beyond."

Wayne State University is one of the nation's pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.

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