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Research / Discovery

Summer NSF research program enriches faculty, students

August 27, 2012

This summer, Paul Laybourn, a professor of biochemistry in the College of Natural Sciences, coordinated an NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates summer program for 10 underrepresented minority undergraduate students.

Biomedical Sciences Professor Scott Earley works with Dallas Baptist University student Gelilla Zemmerdhun.CSU began receiving the funding in 1992; Laybourn, a biochemistry professor who is director of the program at CSU, recently received $300,000 to continue it another three years.

Laybourn's account of the program this year:

“First and foremost, the participants work in the laboratories of REU Site faculty members from six departments and three colleges across the CSU campus. They spend 10 weeks working in the lab getting to know what it is like to be a molecular biosciences researcher. They participate in design of their projects that are directed toward pushing the boundaries of scientific knowledge, not just repeating someone else’s experiment.

REU students participating in team building exercises on CSU's ropes course.On orientation day, the participants are given a tour of the CSU campus and Fort Collins. To help the participants build a team spirit and get to know each other better, we all do the Challenge Course at CSU. Participants often make lifelong friends in our program.

As if climbing 30 feet in the air is not enough to bring us together, we take the REU participants whitewater rafting down the Poudre River. Every year, for the past 13, we have rafted with A Wanderlust Adventure. This year, everyone was dumped from the raft that I was riding in. We were very fortunate to have gotten our raft trip in the day the High Park Fire started and closed the Poudre River Canyon for the rest of June.

Marielle O'Hara-Hulett from Carroll College talks with University Distinguished Professor Karolin Luger.To expose the participants to other career paths other than academia, we take them on tours of government, biotech and clinical laboratories. This year, we were fortunate to have an excellent tour of the CSU Animal Cancer Center with Dr. Christine Hardy, director of operations.

Other weekly meetings were used for ethics workshops and participant presentation. In addition, in conjunction with several of the other summer undergraduate research programs on campus, the Graduate School coordinated a panel of minority CSU graduate students providing tips and answering questions based on their own experiences for preparing for, applying to and succeeding in science graduate programs.

Work balanced with Colorado fun

Students exhibit their summer research at a poster show.Near the midpoint of the program, we usually take the participants on a hiking trip to nearby wilderness areas and parks. We used to go to the Bear Lake area in RMNP. More recently, due the extreme popularity of the national park and frequent roadwork, we have taken them hiking in Pingree Park. However, due to the High Park fire, we took our participants hiking in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area just south of RMNP.

An activity new to this year’s program was a workshop on science communication run by Tim Miller of Spoken Science ( Becoming a scientist is not just about learning to obtain and interpret data; it’s about the ability to share your results with the wider world. Specifically designed for undergraduates in a summer research program, this interactive workshop explored some of the fundamentals of human communication, and examined the unique role of communication in the conduct of scientific research. Each student practiced giving a short talk, and received individualized feedback about his or her strengths and weaknesses as a speaker.

Adam Chicco, professor of Health and Exercise Science, works with Chris Carillo, a student at California State University Monterey Bay.As the summer program came to an end, participants in the program gave oral presentations on their research projects and results and received feedback on the quality of their talks. All the participants were very productive and clearly had a deep understanding of the background and significance of their research projects. As in previous years, three alumni from previous summer cohorts returned to participate in a panel discussion. The alumni have several common experiences with the current participants and have recently gone on to the next steps in their scientific careers (graduate school, post doctoral fellowship, teaching, research associate, faculty member, researcher in government, academic or industry laboratories). Current participants are invariably inspired by their predecessors and come away with a clearer understanding of science career opportunities and what they should do to be successful. This year, the returning alumni were Prince (2007), Tannai Lau (2007) and Steve Garray (2000).

The final day of the summer program was marked by a poster session, keynote speaker and graduation ceremony. The participants put together posters describing their projects and results. Alumni, students, faculty and staff from several departments attended the poster session and learned about our participants’ research projects. They also wrote final reports in a manuscript format, which will be submitted to CSU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research for review and potential acceptance for publication.

Biomedical Sciences Professor Kathy Partin with Angela Alarcon of Saint Edwards University.This year we were fortunate to have as our keynote speaker an international researcher and advocate for Third World women in science, Dr. Lubna Tahtamouni. Dr. Tahtamouni is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Biology and Biotechnology at The Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan. She gave an inspirational and enlightening talk on the realities of being a PhD scientist and a woman in the Middle East. We completed the final day festivities with the presentation of certificates of completion and CDs with photos from all their summer activities. Before lunch we all went outside for a final group photo. This year’s T-shirt design represented combustion – for the summer of the fire.”

The 2012 CSU faculty participants:

  • Susan Bailey, Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences
  • Adam Chicco, Health and Exercise Science
  • Scott Earley, Biomedical Sciences
  • Deborah Garrity, Biology
  • Jeff Hansen, Biochemistry
  • Karolin Luger, Biochemistry
  • Paul Laybourn, Biochemistry
  • Brian McNaughton, Chemistry
  • Kathy Partin, Biomedical Sciences
  • Eric Ross, Biochemistry
  • Stu Tobet, Biomedical Sciences

View the news release for more information about the program.

Contact: Emily Wilmsen
Phone: (970) 491-2336