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Two-for-One: Medical Access, Research Edge

The Lake Forest College-Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science (LFC-RFUMS) Summer Scholars Program announces the 2016 class of scholars. This group of undergraduates and newly minted graduates are set  for an enviable two-for-one advantage: direct mentoring access with medical school professors and an early and deep scientific research edge.

Now in its eighth year, the 2016 cohort of nineteen current students and four 2016 graduates is the largest placement yet for Lake Forest College’s one-of-a-kind undergraduate research training partnership with a medical school. More than 80 students have benefited from this program since 2008.

Professor of Biology Shubhik DebBurman and RFUMS professor Kuei-Yuan Tseng conceived this program in 2007. DebBurman explained that these twenty-three students and graduates will be working with twenty one medical school faculty members that represent eight major medical school departments at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, which is only ten minutes from the college by car or train.

The medical school professors directly mentor LFC undergraduates, who work alongside graduate students, postdoctoral scientists and health professionals, gaining access to topnotch equipment and technologies. All scholars have the option to live on-campus and access the summer meal plan.

Many graduates have become published authors with medical school faculty in a growing list of major journals such as PLoS One, Behavioral Brain Research, Hippocampus, Nucleic Acids Research, Molecular Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, Journal of Neuroscience, and PLoS Genetics.

Several alumni of this program are now in medical school, PhD programs in biology, neuroscience and psychology, as well as pursuing diverse health professions degrees in optometry, physical therapy, pharmacy, dentistry, nursing, public health, counseling, and veterinary medicine. Others have become K-12 science teachers or headed for biotech/pharmaceutical careers.

DebBurman notes that the continued success of this highly successful collaboration between a medical school and a national liberal arts college emphasizes how institutional location and access can produce a unique edge to the career development preparation of our large cohort of pre-health students. “Eight years later, we are getting only stronger, better, and larger. The program has expanded the college’s ability to provide high quality research experiences to life science majors, helping meet a heavy demand from our students for such opportunities.”

Professor Tseng, who has mentored LFC undergraduates every year, believes that this program also benefits RFUMS in important ways, especially in its own educational mission: The main benefit we (RFUMS) receive from supporting this unique undergraduate research program is to have undergraduates in our labs so our graduate students and postdoctoral associated can exercise their mentorship abilities. Learning how to provide guidance and to be a good mentor are part of the skill sets any scientist needs to acquire at some point independently of whether the career path chosen is research or teaching. Perhaps the most valuable aspect for the student is to begin realizing how challenging it is to conceptualize an experimental design and its outcomes towards the discovery of new knowledge. Undergraduate students from LFC are very motivated and always ready to go extra-miles to achieve a goal. Such qualities are often hard to find in undergraduates these days.”.

RFUMS Professor of Neuroscience Anthony West echoes similar sentiments: “My experiences with the undergraduate students from LFC has been absolutely outstanding. I am continually impressed with their maturity, intellectual curiosity, and drive to participate in biomedical research. Indeed, the summer interns are usually very good candidates for graduate or medical school, and we do all that we can to encourage them to continue on this trajectory and to work in the lab during the school year prior to their predoctoral training. In many cases this has lead to authorship on scientific abstracts, and in some cases, manuscripts”.

For neuroscience junior, Lily Veldran ’17, this is her third year doing undergraduate research at a medical school. For the first summer, she did sensory neuroscience research at the University of Wisconsin Madison.  Last summer, she worked with Professor Tseng on the neuroscience of addiction, and with she will continue for her senior thesis project this year. A PhD aspirant, Veldran states, “After graduation, ideally I would like to pursue a PhD in neuroscience. Doing a senior thesis better prepares me for my career goal, because it is similar to what I would be doing as a graduate student, and as a researcher in the long run. Doing research has shown me that I want to pursue a PhD, because I want to have a say, and lead projects in a lab one day, not just do experiments. Since freshman year, doing research is something that I have really enjoyed doing over the summer. I learn new techniques, meet amazing people in the neuroscience field, and gain valuable knowledge about life in the academia research field. Since last summer, Dr. Tseng allowed me to continue working in his lab throughout this past year. I decided to come back to continue working on his current project, which has fueled my interest in preparing a senior thesis in his lab.”

RFUMS Professor of Pharmacology Dr. J. Amiel Rosenkranz has mentored eight LFC students since the program began, with several completing senior theses with him. When asked why he continues to seeks out LFC students, Dr. Rosenkranz states, “The LFC undergraduates in my lab have continued to impress me with their enthusiasm. In addition, they ask excellent questions for which we have no answer. These questions sometimes initiate fruitful new avenues of research”. Not surprisingly, four students have already become published authors with him.

Rosenkranz’s most recent trainee and aspiring physician, Hannah Samberg ’16, Neuroscience and Asia Studies senior, just completed her senior thesis in the RosenKranz lab, and will continue to work this summer after graduation. She reflects, “Working at RFUMS has enabled me to be mentored and guided by faculty who have first hand knowledge about students in medical school.  Their supplemental support complements advising by undergraduate advisors.  I am extremely lucky to have the opportunity to conduct research at RFUMS; it has heightened my understanding of what medical school will be like and made me excited to apply and work towards my end goal of becoming a psychiatrist.”

Like Samberg, Sarah Chiren ’16, neuroscience senior, also plans to continue working in her senior thesis lab after graduation, while applying for medical school. She worked in Professor of Neuroscience Daniel Peterson’s neural stem cell lab. She adds, “I feel so fortunate to have completed my senior thesis in Dr. Peterson’s lab and to continue working in his lab both on my traumatic brain injury project and on his research in wound healing. Working on my senior thesis afforded me the opportunity to not only utilize my critical reading skills, but to finally play a role in the design of experiments and to carry them out. My critical thinking and problem-solving skills have strengthened as a result of the independence and privileges of working in a lab. These skills are crucial to any career in health and medicine, and as a result, I feel I have gained an edge in my upcoming years as a medical student. I plan to stay in Dr. Peterson’s lab over the summer and during the next few years while I apply to medical school. I feel too passionate about this project to simply leave it. I have recently become interested in dermatology work as well, and I am excited that Dr. Peterson has also allowed me to begin working on his wound healing project as well.”

Neuroscience sophomore Luke Shylanski ’18 is a first timer with the program and will work with Professor of Neuroscience Grace E. Stutzmann. He shares, “I’m looking forward to getting a chance to put the skills and knowledge I have learned in my classes to use in a laboratory setting, and getting a chance to see what neuroscience research is like firsthand. I hope to gain new lab skills as well as refine my existing skills, as they will be invaluable for a career in neuroscience research. My mentor’s research involves studying the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease before significant neurodegeneration begins. Alzheimer’s was one of the first things I learned about way back at the beginning of my neuroscience coursework in my First-Year studies course, and I am excited to be researching it.”

To bolster the program’s growth, the college’s Career and Advancement Center (CAC) has joined forces with existing funding sponsors Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation and the Gorter Family Foundation.  For Associate Vice President for Career & Professional Development Lisa Hinkley, the benefit of supporting this training program is a no-brainer, “It gives students a competitive edge when applying to medical school and other graduate programs by connecting them to professional mentors, helping them to build their skills as medical researchers and providing them with a realistic understanding of what it takes to succeed in medical school early in their academic careers.”

The 2016 Scholar List

The list comprises of seven seniors, nine juniors, three sophomores, and four newly minted graduates (who are returning to the same labs where they trained previously as program scholars).

The following students are supported by the Groner Foundation

Brittany Avonts ’17, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Amiel Rosenkranz, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
Kaitlyn Woodman ’17, biology and chemistry major (Mentor: Professor Joseph Reynolds, Department of Microbiology and Immunology)
Trevor Buhr ’18, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Robert Marr, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy)
Zachary Weinstein ’18, biology major (Mentor: Professor Joseph Reynolds, Department of Microbiology and Immunology)
Tariq Aldaas ’19, biology major (Mentor: Professor Adrian Gross, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)
Cade Brittain ’19, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor David Everly, Department of Microbiology and Immunology)
Philip Ofusu-Amaah ’19 (Mentor: Professor Gulam Waris, Department of Microbiology and Immunology)

The following students are supported by the Gorter Family Foundation and RFUMS

Pooja Acharya ’17, neuroscience major  (Mentor: Professor Heinz Steiner, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
James Haney ’17, biology major (Mentor: Professor Hongkyun Kim, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy)
Malia Hansen ’17,  mathematics and neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Ronald Kaplan, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)
Sierra Smith ’17, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor John Buolamwini, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences)
Lily Veldran ’17, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Kuei-Yuan Tseng, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
Michael Janecek ’18 history and neuroscience major, (Mentor: Professor Joanna Dabrowska, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
Sabrina Najibi ’18, chemistry and neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Neelam Walia-Sharma, Department of Microbiology and Immunology)
Luke Shylanski ’18, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Grace E. Stutzmann, Department of Neuroscience)
Mohini Verma ’18, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Jun-Yong Choe, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology)

The following students are supported by the Career Advancement Center

Rachel Domijancic ’18, neuroscience and psychology major  (Mentor: Professor Ryan Crews, Department of Podiatric Surgery and Biomechanics)
Viktoriya Georgieva ’18, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Michelle Hastings, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy)
Robin Redmond ’18, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Janice Urban, Department of Biophysics and Physiology)

The following 2016 graduates and past LFC-RFUMS scholars will continue their work with RFUMS mentors this summer

Sarah Chiren ’16, neuroscience major (Mentor: Professor Daniel Peterson, Department of Neuroscience)
Yusuf Ismail’16, biology major (Mentor: Professor William Frost, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy). Ismail is funded by the Groner Foundation
Heather Heitkotter ’16, biology and neuroscience major  (Mentor: Professor Amiel RosenKranz, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
Hannah Samberg ’16, Asia studies and neuroscience major  (Mentor: Professor Amiel RosenKranz, Department of Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology)
-Thanks to the Gorter Family Foundation,  the Grace Elizabeth Groner Foundation, and the Career Adavancement Center for funding support.
-Thanks to Professor Ronald Kaplan (Vice-President of Research, RFUMS) and all RFUMS faculty for their generous and sustained support through stipend and research funds, mentoring time, and research training.
-Thanks to President Stephen Schutt and Krebs Provost/Dean of the Faculty Michael Orr for their support in expanding off-campus student research opportunities.
-This program is co-directed by Professor of Biology Shubhik DebBurman and Assistant Professor of Biology Lynn Westley.