Researching summer at Rowan

Researching summer at Rowan

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Kimberly Saint Jean took one step closer to becoming a physician this summer.

Deep in Science Hall on the Glassboro campus of Rowan University, the 21-year-old biochemistry major from Roselle, New Jersey, spent 10 weeks in a lab working on two projects that can impact the health of the general population.

Her work was part of a new initiative at Rowan, the College of Science & Mathematics’ Summer Research Program for Undergraduates. An intensive and competitive offering, the program drew more than 120 students to conduct research, some paid, for five to 10 weeks in departments as diverse as Chemistry and Biochemistry and Psychology. Saint Jean spent her time working with four other students in the lab of Dr. Gregory Caputo, head of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department.

Working on health care studies

There she conducted studies on anti-microbial peptides, small, naturally occurring components of the immune system that can kill bacteria. The team explored altering the amino acids that build peptides to determine if they could design more effective ones to battle infections.

“We’re looking for the chemical properties that make these good killers,” said Caputo, who noted that if their work is successful it will have the potential to impact drug development.

His students also worked on anti-bacterial coatings for medical devices, in conjunction with physics professor Dr. Jeffrey Hettinger; electrical and computer engineering professor Dr. Robert Krchnavek; and Dr. Renee Demarest, assistant professor of molecular biology at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine The professors and their students are seeking ways to treat medical devices, such as rods inserted into broken legs, to minimize the chance of infection deep in the bone. When infections occur, doctors often have to operate again to clean them out.

“We want to try to prevent that,” Caputo said.

For Saint Jean, the research opportunity has been exhilarating.

“It’s been amazing. It gives me added experience, because I want to do research when I become a physician,” said Saint Jean, who is looking at medical schools along the East Coast.

In addition to the hands-on work, she has gained experience writing papers, working on protocols and connecting with other researchers, all while Caputo mentored her.

Necessary for future

That is just what Dr. Karen Magee-Sauer, dean of the College of Science & Mathematics, hoped to hear.

“The college is giving our students an opportunity to conduct research that is meaningful. That work is going to give them skills to get into graduate school and to get industrial positons,” said Magee- Sauer, who noted more than 30 professors are working with students on projects. “These are deciding factors -- research experience, knowledge of advanced lab techniques and instrumentation. It’s that experience that lands them that seat in grad school, that job in industry.”

She added, “Relevant skills students get usually are acquired in research. We know students learn best in a research-rich environment. To get that they need extended periods of uninterrupted time. We can do it best in the summer.”

While the college has offered research opportunities in the past, this is the first year it has promoted a structured program, which also included speakers, talks on how to land a job and socialization that helped build community.

The NASA/NJ Space Grant Consortium and the college, departments and other funders supported the program.

Elsewhere in the college, students studied diverse topics, from the development and evolution of the sensory system in a particular fish to yeast and its potential impact on diseases such as cancer and from the behaviors in young mothers’ romantic relationships, including developing intervention to reduce their risk of dating violence, STIs/HIV and rapid repeat pregnancy, to comparing parental treatments for autism against typical services provided in the community

Conducting research here and abroad

Summer research is not limited to the College of Science and Mathematics nor to Rowan’s high-tech fields. Nor is research limited to Rowan’s campuses in Glassboro and Camden, its School of Osteopathic Medicine, Cooper Medical School of Rowan University or the South Jersey Technology Park.

Rowans students and professors also are conducting research in numerous disciplines and at numerous sites, in some cases far off campus.

For instance, Olivia Fiebig, a rising senior chemistry and physics double major, is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates, working in a chemical engineering lab on a project that involves synthesizing protein block copolymers for hydrogels for potential use for drug delivery and tissue engineering.

Biological sciences major and anthropology minor Anna Getler of Glendora traveled to Romania, where she conducted forensic anthropology studies as part of the Juvenile Osteology Research Workshop in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Hatghita County, Transylvania. The aim of this project was to evaluate how major political events impacted local populations, especially the children, some of whom are buried in mass graves at churches dating to the 17th century.

Sociology and anthropology professor Dr. Jane Hill, along with Rowan alumna Chelsea Dordel, studied human remains and artifacts in Abydos, Egypt, working with University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Joseph Wegner.

History professor Dr. Jim Heinzen, traveled to Russia to conduct research in archives on corruption in the Soviet Union. Heinzen’s book, The Art of the Bribe under Stalin: Corruption, Politics, Law, and Everyday Life, 1943-1953, is forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2016.

Rowan Senior Vice President for Health Sciences Dr. Kenneth Blank noted that such research opportunities for students and faculty strengthen not just the participants but also the university. “As we grow as a research institution and as we offer increased research experiences, we will attract more exceptional students and faculty members who want to expand their own research. This is a win for Rowan and for New Jersey, especially when that research leads to advances in science, technology, health care and other fields that leads to spinning off into new businesses that create jobs.”