This summer, two undergraduates from outside of Rutgers came together in the lab of Tracy Anthony, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences, for intense hands-on summer research experiences that will help shape their futures in science.
Erica Steele, a rising senior from Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, was a fellow in the American Physiological Society’s Short-Term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons (STEP-UP) program while Kidus Feleke, a rising senior at Jackson State University in Mississippi, was a fellow in the Research in Science and Engineering (RiSE) program funded by Rutgers.
Both Kidus and Erica spent the summer conducting research in the Anthony lab under the auspices of programs that are both designed to provide greater access to undergraduate students nationwide from disadvantaged backgrounds and underrepresented groups.
This is the first year that Anthony has been involved with the STEP-UP program, which is supported by a grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), but it’s her third year participating as an established scientist in the RiSE program, which is supported by Rutgers.
Both programs “do a fantastic job facilitating the development of young experimental scientists,” explained Anthony.
“My lab offers two levels of mentorship for participants; one, at the bench, where the student is exposed to the scientific method and experimental design from the perspective of an experienced but ‘near-peer’ mentor, and then also through one-on-one mentorship with the host scientist that further helps guides their thinking, writing and presentation skills.”
Feleke, a biology/pre-med major, is “contemplating a career in biomedical research.” The RiSE program helped him to narrow down his career options and gave him the opportunity “to see if research is really what I want to do,” he said.
Feleke, who is also a NIH-funded Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) fellow and therefore, no stranger to immersive, hands-on research experience, called his 10-week Rutgers RiSE fellowship “a great experience.”
“I was able to learn a lot of research techniques and I really liked the group activities, like seminars and presentations. I also enjoyed working in the lab with my near-peer mentor Ashley,” he added.
He’s referring to Ashley Pettit, a post-doc fellow with the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, who is supported by the NIH-funded INSPIRE postdoctoral training program that prepares postdocs for a career in teaching science.
“This is my first year in the INSPIRE program and it gave me an excellent opportunity to work in my research area but also promote excellence in teaching, both in the lab and classroom,” said Pettit.
Erica Steele, a pre-med major at Rochester Institute of Technology, would like to become a Physician Assistant. Steele spent her second summer as a STEP-UP fellow, because she “liked the program my first summer, so I decided to participate a second time.” While Steele is currently interested in becoming a Physician Assistant she is also intrigued by basic research.
“I currently work in a hospital and serve as a health coach for patients, and I like patient interaction as much as I like experimental research,” she explained.
Her desire is to bring the two together somehow and the STEP-UP program, with its signature, immersive hands-on research focus, is helping to prepare her for the rigor of graduate school, whatever track she takes.
Steele’s near-peer mentor in the Anthony lab was Inna Nikonorova, a NIH-funded post doc who is studying liver toxicity by the chemotherapy drug asparaginase. Nikonorova has mentored undergraduates before and has high praise for Steele’s work in the lab.
“I actually want to complement her skill and competency in the lab. She produced a lot of valuable data during her summer fellowship.”
Both Feleke and Steele brought great value to the lab. The impact of their summer research fellowships is measurable, said Anthony.
“Their summer results will be applied to the ongoing, grant-funded research being conducted in my lab.”