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Colby-Sawyer Students Present Research at First New Hampshire IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence Conference

NEW LONDON, N.H. - A celebration of undergraduate student research projects and thriving scientific partnerships across ten colleges and universities highlighted the first annual conference for New Hampshire IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (NH-INBRE), held Aug. 1-2 at the Mountain View Grand Resort and Spa in Whitefield, N.H. Nearly 150 students and faculty convened to kick off the two-day event, which showcased students' presentations.

Colby-Sawyer is a partner in the newly formed NH-INBRE, a program designed to enhance biomedical research training and opportunities in the state. Ten Colby-Sawyer students discussed the research they conducted with faculty members through poster sessions and a presentation. Supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) with a five-year, $15.4 million grant awarded in September 2010, NH-INBRE is a partnership led by Dartmouth Medical School and the University of New Hampshire (UNH). Along with Colby-Sawyer, the other research partners include Franklin Pierce University, Great Bay Community College, Keene State College, New England College, Plymouth State University, River Valley Community College and St. Anselm College.

“This is our network, and we're seeing remarkable events already. Research is going on that wouldn't have without this grant,” says Ron Taylor, NH-INBRE principal investigator and professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Dartmouth Medical School. Across the state, 80 undergraduate students are involved with INBRE research projects, according to Professor Taylor.

Exceptional Opportunities for Student Research

The main goal of the INBRE program is to create opportunities for students and faculty to participate in original scientific research by promoting the development, coordination and sharing of biomedical research resources across the state. Students in Colby-Sawyer's science programs, including biology, nursing, environmental science and studies, exercise science, psychology and health studies, are eligible to participate in the research.

Environmental Science major Adam Wilson '12 delivered a PowerPoint presentation on his team's findings analyzing how landscape and water quality parameters affect mercury dynamics and bioaccumulation within stream food webs. His project, led by Nick Baer, associate professor of Natural Sciences, was conducted with fellow Colby-Sawyer Biology major Jessica Chickering '12 and researchers from Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Dartmouth College, Bates College, SUNY New Paltz, and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association. Together, they examined the linkages between land cover characteristics, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and mercury concentrations in the water and in aquatic invertebrates and fish within 12 tributaries of Lake Sunapee. During his presentation, Wilson joked that his research had uncovered all the best secret fishing locations around Lake Sunapee before handily answering tough, informed questions from the audience.

At the evening poster session, student research assistants Maria Cimpean '13, Jill Dyer '11 and Faedhra Wagnac '12 presented their work with Professor of Natural Sciences Bill Thomas on the project “An analysis of a-catenin functions in transfected DLD-1 carcinoma cells.”

“INBRE means the first step to establishing a research culture at Colby-Sawyer,” says Cimpean. “Through INBRE, students can get involved in biomedical research at a small liberal arts school. You get the liberal arts experience, the personal attention due to the small class sizes, and get to work on a research project right here on campus. To me, that is just exceptional.”

Exercise Science major Madison Hawkins '12 shared her work with Kerstin Stoedefalke, associate professor of Exercise and Sport Sciences at Colby-Sawyer, on another pilot project to examine how well the ACSM metabolic calculations compare to measured oxygen levels during submaximal exercise on both a cycle ergometer and treadmill. In other words, Hawkins, says, when a treadmill reports that you've burned 450 calories, she wants to know if that information is correct and based on an accurate equation.

Senior Student Nurses Kara Gulezian and Melissa Quinn are part of the Nursing Research Scholar Program this summer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and presented a poster on “The Multidimensional Roles of Nurses Involved in Research.” Gulezian, who has an interest in research and continuing her nursing education, learned about the opportunity to explore different kinds of nursing research through INBRE from Susan Reeves, chair of Colby-Sawyer's Nursing Department, and other nursing faculty.

“INBRE provides opportunities that are not typically offered to undergraduates,” says Gulezian, “especially for nursing students. INBRE has allowed me to learn about research in the nursing profession, that there are many types of nursing research and many ways to conduct research as a nurse. I have been able to meet some very impressive people in the field I probably would not have otherwise who were able to teach me on a daily basis. This experience has taught me that nurses should be doing research constantly and that I am interested in how research changes nursing practice.”

Chris Thompson '12 earned a paid position with the Summer Undergraduate Fellowship (SURF) program at Dartmouth College, which provides research experience for undergraduates in a state-of-the-art life sciences research laboratory and is funded by NH-INBRE and the Molecular and Cellular Biology program at Dartmouth. Thompson made a presentation about the research he conducted this summer with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology on the bacterium vibrio cholerae.

“I am most impressed with the interest in research that this grant has generated, both among faculty and students,” says Professor of Natural Sciences Ben Steele, chair of the department and a NH-INBRE steering committee member. “Four faculty members had their research funded and three others will propose projects for next year. Student interest is more than twice what I expected and many of these students had never considered research as a career before. Judging by the attendance at the annual meeting, the INBRE grant has had the same effect at the other institutions in the state. It is really a great opportunity for students and faculty.”

A Multidisciplinary Network with a Scientific Focus

NCRR's Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program, established by Congress in 1993, serves to broaden the geographic distribution of National Institute of Health funding and enhance research capacity in eligible states and institutions. The program supports multidisciplinary research centers and collaborative research networks in 24 IDeA-eligible states and Puerto Rico through two initiatives, Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) and Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE).

The awards expand research opportunities for undergraduate faculty and students and thereby enhance the state's science and technology workforce. Each INBRE establishes a multidisciplinary network with a scientific focus.

Long-time INBRE researcher Rebecca Sommer, associate professor of Biology at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, says the benefits of undergraduate research include the generation of new knowledge, the potential for enhanced learning and intellectual development of students, higher retention of typically underrepresented students in the sciences, and a productive research program for faculty.

“Students learn more in one semester working with their mentor than in any other class,” Sommer says. “They learn how to be successful undergraduate researchers, and what does that take? Persistence. Time Management. Math. Smarts. Problem solving skills. A work ethic. And a goal, such as medical school.”

Colby-Sawyer Biology major Maria Cimpean says it also takes “great allies” at your side, while Chris Thompson suggests that the research requires students to take one day at a time. “Start fresh every day,” he says.

Getting into the Game

During his keynote address, Delaware's INBRE Principal Investigator Karl Steiner, professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and of Biomedical Engineering and senior associate provost for Research Development at University of Delaware, emphasized that obtaining a federal grant such as INBRE is a success story, but it's not about one school – it's about the network. The grant creates centers of expertise and is a workforce pipeline. INBRE pilot programs can lead to graduate school and then to independent research and funding. “INBRE gets you into the game, it's not the end game,” Professor Steiner says.

Taking part in a federally funded research project not only offers a rare opportunity for undergraduate research, it creates new career possibilities.

Dartmouth's Professor Taylor led a workshop on graduate school and opened with a myth buster: “We need to kill the idea that tuition makes graduate school impossible,” he says. “We pay you! Start looking at graduate schools the beginning of senior year, even junior year.” By the time an applicant makes it to an interview on campus, Professor Taylor says, the school is recruiting the applicant and it's his or hers to lose. “Graduate schools are competitive,” he says. “They will pay for your move, maybe even give a signing bonus. If you look good and interview well, schools will fight for you; the market is yours.”

What does Dartmouth Medical School and many graduate school programs require of its applicants that every undergraduate student involved with INBRE will have on their resumes upon graduation? Solid laboratory research experience. “Work hard and love what you do, and lots of career paths will be available,” Professor Taylor advises.

The student researchers in the room listened intently, nodded, and undoubtedly felt very hopeful about their futures.

Kate Dunlop Seamans

Colby-Sawyer College is a comprehensive college that integrates the liberal arts and sciences with professional preparation. Founded in 1837, Colby-Sawyer is located in the scenic Lake Sunapee Region of central New Hampshire.

Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257 (603) 526-3000