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Doubly Lucky 13

Lake Forest College neuroscience and biology students prove that thirteen is not only a lucky number, but doubly so.  Our students have once again, for the thirteenth year in a row, won prizes for outstanding undergraduate research at the prestigious 2015 Chicago Society for Neuroscience (CSfN) conference, which was held at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on March 20.

Josephine Masandika ’16, a biology major with a neuroscience minor, won the Second Prize, and Alexandra Roman ’16, a neuroscience and chemistry major, won the Third Prize, at the meeting’s undergraduate poster session, which attracts undergraduates from Illinois Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan.

Neuroscience juniors Saul Bello Rojas ’16 and Sarah Chiren ’16 (co-Presidents of Synapse, the neuroscience student organization at Lake Forest College) were also formally recognized for outstanding Chicago area undergraduate leadership in neuroscience outreach and education.

Biology alumnus Stephanie Valtierra ’08, now a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at Northwestern University won a prize for her graduate work. Previously, in 2008, she was similarly honored at this same meeting for her undergraduate work at the college.

Masandika conducted her research with fruit flies in Associate Professor of Biology Alexander Shingleton’s  developmental genetics lab. She is currently pursing this project as her senior thesis next year and is planning to pursue a PhD in biology after graduation. This work includes research contributed by Yuqing Zhu ’15, Lily Thorsen ’16, and Diego Rojas Toledo ’16.

Roman has been conducting Parkinson’s Disease research with yeasts since her first-year as a Richter Scholar in Professor of Biology Shubhik DebBurman’s molecular neuroscience lab. This project will expand into her senior thesis project next year and she is planing for medical school after graduation. This work includes research contributed by Maiwase Tembo ’15, Galina Lipkin ’14, Maribel Munoz ’16, and Charles Alvarado ’16.

On receiving her honor, Masandika said, “Undergraduate research is the first step to going graduate school and conduct medical research and hopefully save lives in developing nations. Conducting research on Drosophila melanogaster has helped me expand my knowledge on scientific research and sparked my interest in developmental biology; which will help me explore different fields of study for biomedicine research I plan to engage in later. Many months of hard work collecting data for this research, dedication, along with encouragement and guidance from Dr. Shingleton and Dr. DebBurman has helped me get to where I am now. ”

Roman added: “I think conducting undergraduate research builds a foundation of critical thinking skills in order to establish a greater understanding of the world we live in and solve major problems. I’m planning to go to medical school and become a physician, so conducting research on Parkinson’s disease, one of the most common neurological disorders, keeps me thinking about the relevance of the papers I’m reading and the work I do in order to help the many people and families affected by this disease. It’s important to engage with the community and exchange recent findings with other scientists, and posters are a great way to share that information. I’d say the time my mentors and I committed to my research in and out of the lab over my three years at Lake Forest College was the key to my success.”

Three other Lake Forest College students presented their research as well:

Saul Bello Rojas ’16, neuroscience and chemistry double major, presented research on Parkinson’s disease that he is conducting in the DebBurman lab.

Cecilia Reyes ’15, neuroscience major, presented research that she is conducting in Dr. Michelle Hasting’s lab at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

Johnathan Vinkavich ’15, neuroscience and biology double major, presented research he is conducting in Dr. Antony West’s lab at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science.

CSfN hosts the largest Midwest neuroscience meeting every year and more than 500 scientists and students attended this year. Lake Forest College is a sponsor of this meeting and its neuroscience program faculty have a long history of service and leadership with the professional society, which is composed of academic and industry-based scientists who are interested in the field of neuroscience. 

More than 70 neuroscience, biology and psychology students from Lake Forest College, including over 20 first-year students, attended this meeting. They were accompanied by Professors Shubhik DebBurman and Naomi Wentworth. Not only did students attend several scientific sessions featuring world famous scientists, they also participated in “diversity in careers” lunch discussions, scientific mentoring panels, and brain awareness teaching workshops.

Among the over twenty first-year science majors attended this meeting, including several newly selected Richter Scholars, was Krista Mueli ’18, attending her first scientific conference.

“Listening to the fascinating research on the broad ranch of topics presented at CSfN this year certainly taught me a great deal”, shared Meuli.  “However, I found the most enriching aspect of attending CSfN to be the opportunity to see how more experienced individuals in the field of neuroscience approach research. Having access to people from all different levels of experience to ask questions about the motivation and methodology for their research has given me insight as to how I may want to approach my own research. Seeing how they present research and explain the meaning of their results, also, helped understand the components that go into communicating research effectively. Overall, having this exposure to such vast levels and areas of research prior to beginning my first research project has provided me a basis for how to conduct research well.”

The following Lake Forest College students have won awards at the conference since 2003:

Maiwase Tembo ’15,
3rd Prize, is headed for a PhD in biology and has been accepted to multiple PhD programs in United States.

Ashley Reich ’13,
2nd Prize, is planning for graduate school and is currently working as a scientist with Tyson Foods.
Natalie Kukulka ’13, 3rd Prize, has been accepted to multiple medical schools for fall 2015, and is currently working as research technician at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

Sydni Cole ’12
, 1st Prize, is pursuing her MD/PhD at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine.

Madhavi Senagolage 12, 2nd Prize, PhD candidate in biology at Northwestern University.

Derek Atchley ’10
, 3rd Prize, PhD candidate in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience at Wayne State University.

Michael Fiske 10, 1st Prize, PhD student in neuroscience at Northwestern University.

Ray Choi ’09, 3rd Prize, completed his MD from University of Colorado and is an anestheiology resident at Rush Presbyterian Hospital.

Stephanie Valtierra 08, 2nd Prize, PhD candidate in neuroscience at Northwestern University.

Alexandra Ayala 09, Honorable Mention, is a math and science teacher for Teach for America.

Michael White 07, 2nd Prize, MD 2012 is completing his neurology residency at Washington University, and will begin a neuro-oncology residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School’s Dana Farber Cancer Center.

Michael Zorniak 07, 3rd Prize, PhD in neuroscience at University of Wisconsin-Madison, and current Medical Liaison with Teva Pharmaceuticals.

Arun Paul 05, 1st Prize, MD 2012/PhD 2010, RFUMS (oncology residency at Wayne State).

David Mann 05, 3rd Prize, MD Ross University (received 2010); MD Residency, Medical College of Wisconsin.

Isaac Holmes 04, 1st Prize, MD (2009) and Residency at Rush Medical College; currently physician at Bellevue Hospital (New York).

Jillian Hibler 04, 2nd Prize, DVM 2007, Washington State University.

Nijee Sharma 04, co-3rd prize, MD (2011/PhD 2009) Loyola; MD residency in neurology at University of California Davis; currently Neurology Fellow at University of California San Francisco).

Brandon Johnson 03, co-3rd prize, PhD (received 2010) and Postdoctoral fellowship, Stanford University; Founder and Director of Cognitive Advantage (Palo Alto, CA).