Prestigious national research internships awarded to students

Tuesday May 7, 2019Roger Coda
students in the molecular genetics lab
Gathering in the molecular genetics lab are (from left): Laurel Finson, Abigail Venskus, Haleigh Moreno, Gabriella Hahn and Emilee Stenson.

Seven top-tier summer research internships, including Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) grants funded by the National Science Foundation, have been awarded to students in Department of Biology programs at Fredonia.

Emilee Stenson, a sophomore majoring in Molecular Genetics, has been awarded an REU grant to enroll in the Nathan Schraper Intern Program (NSIP) in Translational Cancer Research at the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, College Park.

Gabriella Hahn, a junior Molecular Genetics major, will participate in the BioREU program at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore.

students in science lab
Cordelia Beck-Horton and Alexander Frank in the chemistry lab.

Cordelia Beck-Horton, who will graduate in the spring of 2020 with a B.S. in Chemistry, has been awarded an REU at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

Alexander Frank, a sophomore Biochemistry major, will enter an REU project at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Laurel Finson, a junior Biology major, with minors Chemistry and Public Health, will participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the Sackler Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at New York University School of Medicine, New York City.

Haleigh Moreno, a sophomore Exercise Science major, will join the Cyclone Scholar Summer Research Experience at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Abigail Venskus, a junior Molecular Genetics major, will participate in the Summer Research Opportunities Program at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.

Summer internships typically run up to 10 weeks, offer stipends as well as housing, and are designed for undergraduates who plan to pursue advanced degrees and careers in science research or higher education.

At the Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ms. Stenson will work with Dr. Lu-Chang whose lab studies DNA repair and damage response. Her project will be to determine how DNA binding of Rad9, as a subunit of the Rad9-Rad1-Hus1 complex, affects cell response to DNA damage. Greenebaum is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center.

“I do look forward to all the new experiences I’ll gain and the networking opportunities that the NSIP will provide,” explained Stenson, a 2017 graduate of Attica Senior High School. “The NSIP research is exactly what I want to do in my career, which is one of the reasons why this REU is so important to me.”

Stenson’s current research in Dr. Nicholas Quintyne’s lab involves modulating the expression of various proteins in cancer cells and observing the effects on normal cell division, with a focus on looking at the mechanism of attaching chromosomes to the mitotic spindle.

The internship dovetails with Stenson’s plan to enroll in a Ph.D. program and ultimately work in cancer research. She also has minors in Chemistry and English.

Ms. Hahn has been assigned to a cell biology lab of Dr. Trina Schroer and will receive intensive research experience under Cell Molecular Developmental Biology and Biophysics faculty at Johns Hopkins University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. While research is the core of the program, students also gain experience in preparing and delivering talks and also prepare a poster presentation that serves as the capstone of their internship.

“I hope to learn more research techniques and see how different labs are run. Most importantly, though, I want to make connections with other students as well as faculty, so I can talk about research with them,” Hahn explained. “I’ll also get multiple opportunities to practice presenting my own research, which is something I look forward to doing.”

Hahn has concentrated on microtubule organization, with special attention given to how it changes during mitosis, in Dr. Quintyne’s research lab. “My research focuses on several proteins involved in spindle assembly that make sure cell division occurs correctly. Using cell techniques, I either ramp up or lower the amount of the protein in the cell.”

A 2016 graduate of Baldwinsville High School, Hahn plans to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. Her ultimate goal is to teach in academia, most likely in cell biology or genetics. She has a minor in Psychology at Fredonia.

“Johns Hopkins is also on the top of my list of grad schools I want to apply to, so it's really good that I'll have some experience there,” Hahn added.

Ms. Beck-Horton has been assigned to the Amping Up Organic Synthesis Using Electro Catalysis project in the Cornell Center for Materials Research program. “We will be working on improving organic synthesis techniques with electro catalysts. I’m hoping to learn more sophisticated and specific synthesis techniques from this project,” said Beck-Horton.

A 2017 graduate of Kenmore East High School, Beck-Horton currently serves in the research labs of Drs. Michael Milligan and Matthew Gronquist. She plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Chemistry and a research career in pharmaceutical development of chemotherapy drugs.

Mr. Frank will work on computer modeling of protein-protein interactions in biological systems, as well as some organic synthesis, in one the University of Michigan’s 18 REU summer projects. He expects to focus on creating a detailed model of gene transcription, with a potential to search for and design small molecules targeting or inhibiting proteins involved in cancers.

“I anticipate learning advanced modeling and analysis techniques as well as gaining a better understanding of graduate-level research,” Frank added.

Frank’s current research in Dr. Matthew Fountain’s lab involves europium metal binding sites on DNA molecules through NMR modeling.

A 2017 graduate of Clarence High School, Frank plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program in Biochemistry, followed by post-doctoral research. His lifelong goal is to be involved in scientific research and share ideas in science with non-scientists.

Ms. Finson anticipates engaging in public health research at NYU. Her current research in Dr. Scott Ferguson’s lab involves creating transgenic fruit flies to eventually find the Internal Ribosomal Entry Site of the Gurken protein, which is involved with the proper development and polarity of the oocyte. This research relates to humans as Gurken is related to TGF-a, which is overexpressed in many different types of cancer.

A 2016 graduate of Southwestern High School, Finson plans to attend medical school. She also served in Ferguson’s lab last summer.

Ms. Moreno has been assigned to the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at ISU, where she will engage in interdisciplinary research in food safety, food security, human nutrition and childhood obesity. The program’s objective is to expose a new generation of researchers to the concept of interdisciplinary research to prepare them to tackle these food system issues in a comprehensive manner.

Continuing research for the rest of her undergraduate education is a goal for Moreno, as she considers graduate school options. She has been a research assistant in the Exercise Science research lab since the fall 2018 semester.

“After graduating, I plan on going into the health field and having a career more centered on holistic medicine,” said Moreno, a 2017 graduate of Williamsville South High School, who also has a minor in Chemistry. Osteopathic medicine and chiropractic are where her interests currently lie.

The summer ISU program is funded by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, an agency within the United States Department of Agriculture.

Ms. Venskus anticipates working with microbes and studying their genes in the context of the environment in Dr. Kevin Solomon’s lab in Purdue’s School of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. She worked last summer in Ferguson’s lab using CRISPR/Cas9 to insert GFP into alpha-tubulin, and is currently serving in the labs of Quintyne and Ferguson.

Academic plans of Venskus include enrolling in a Ph.D. program in Genetics, Molecular Biology and/or Cell Biology. She is a 2016 graduate of John C. Birdlebough High School, Phoenix, N.Y.

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