Summer in Henniker: NH-INBRE at New England College

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New England College provides an assortment of opportunities for students to take part in throughout the years they spend here. One hidden gem is an educational experience that students can apply to take part in: the IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) funded Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP). Students can be found tan and donned in blue nitrile gloves whilst performing relevant biomedical orientated research during the warm Henniker, New Hampshire summers.

As of this year, the INBRE grant is in effect for its 11th year at New England College. Funds that contribute to this research experience come from the National Institutes of Health, which are provided to states with lower levels of federal research funding.

“The goals of the NH-INBRE grant are to build a strong institutional research culture and provide research training opportunities for both students and faculty at primarily undergraduate colleges,” explained Deb Dunlop, Associate Dean of the Science, Health and Education Division at New England College. Colleges in New Hampshire that partner with INBRE include Colby-Sawyer College, Keene State College, Plymouth State University, and of course, New England College; just to name a few.

“Like larger and elite universities, we are able to offer undergraduate research experiences as high impact, engaged and experiential learning experiences that provide a competitive edge for New England College graduates as they seek careers and graduate programs in Biomedical Science, Psychology, Chemistry and Health Care,” Dunlop stated. “With the support of the INBRE grant, NEC is able to support paid student research in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) working with faculty as mentors.”

Students have the ability to work with faculty members performing research at NEC. The following faculty currently run INBRE labs during the summer. Dr. Lori Koziol, Dr. Geoff Cook, Dr. Sarah Gunnery, Dr. Matthew Young, and Dr. Jim Newcomb. These five faculty members all have unique projects that weave biomedical relevance into their research.

This year, several students will be participating with three labs. Students participating in Dr. Sarah Gunnery’s lab will be: Serena Avery, Felicia James, and Maxwell Ross. Dr. Jim Newcomb’s lab will be made up of five students: YaXi Stapp, Christine Gordon, Kaylee Cross, Lourdes Ricks, and Emily Wightman. Dr. Geoff Cook’s lab will also be composed of five students: Megan Gilpatric, Bradley Ackerly, Caitlyn McGhee, Sean Posner, and Nevada Elkins.

Dr. Gunnery is looking forward to a great summer in the Psychology department, as she is starting up the Social Interaction and Health Laboratory. “The inaugural study in the lab will focus on the interaction between people with Parkinson’s disease and their care partners,” Gunnery explained. “Student researchers will work directly with participants to initiate conversations with the couples and then ask questions about what they were thinking and feeling during their conversations.”

Students will also gain new skills within the lab. “Student researchers will become experts in coding nonverbal behavior and analyzing correlational data,” Gunnery concluded.

Dr. Newcomb elaborated on what his lab goals are for the summer of 2021. “The work in the lab will be focusing on three areas of research this summer – circadian (24-hour) rhythms, light sensing outside of organized eyes, and regeneration – using our animal of choice for understanding physiology, nudibranchs [sea slugs].”

Dr. Young was recently awarded a seed grant for INBRE research. “The goal of my research is to use computational chemistry and biophysics to guide alterations that can be made to the design of molecular nets that are optimized for the capture of biomarkers with molecular properties, similar to antimicrobial peptides.”

Dr. Cook’s lab will be working with invertebrates, specifically corals, Orbicella faveolata, as a model system to understand innate immunity. His students will be performing research that is geared toward further understanding the biological mechanisms that control the composition of commensal microbiota-and their microbiome-in states of health and disease.

Coral medallions in Geoff Cook’s Lab

Bradley Ackerly, a junior majoring in biology, is looking forward to his third year participating with NH-INBRE SURP. He worked with Dr. Koziol for two years and plans to work with Dr. Cook this summer (2021). “INBRE is a great opportunity to experience real world science while still being an undergraduate. I really enjoy the networking that comes with INBRE, not only at NEC, but with colleges and companies around New Hampshire as well.”

“It provides a lot of hands-on skills and shows a glimpse of what working in a lab is like. Plus, it keeps your brain active during the summer months between semesters,” Sean Posner added.

NH-INBRE typically runs about 8-weeks each summer. Students participating in INBRE also have the ability to reside on campus housing or commute. The paid program starts in early May, shortly after commencement and runs through July.

“I started with INBRE after my freshman year. It was an opportunity for me to jump right into lab work. I believe my problem-solving experiences in INBRE have made me feel like I have a wealth of experience compared to peers my age in the world of science,” Connor Dunn, a junior majoring in Health Science, said of experience with NH-INBRE SURP. “I enjoyed the conference [New Hampshire Annual INBRE meeting] and the opportunity to become close with peers from my school and peers from other schools.”

“Annually, students present their research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, Society of Integrative Comparative Biology, NH Annual INBRE meeting,” Dunlop elaborated.

Students and mentors get a chance to venture up to the meeting every August at the scenic Mount Washington Hotel. Students participate in poster presentations, sharing the research they performed over the summer to others, contributing to INBRE’s goal of enhancing scientific, intellectual, and administrative interactions within the NH-INBRE network.

“I have made connections with other colleges, including Dartmouth, where I hope to apply for medical school. I also received employment opportunities after INBRE through connections that I made during my summer research,” Dunn stated.

Caitlyn McGhee, a senior majoring in Health Science who is applying to medical school, stated: “Participation in NH-INBRE has opened a lot of doors for me. In my applications to medical school, a lot of schools have been impressed with skills I have acquired as a result of participating in this program, such as bioinformatics and micro dissection techniques. I have gained a lot of independence and confidence; this has also helped me in my course work as a student and benefited me in seeking out a career in the medical field.”

Caitlyn worked in Dr. Newcomb’s lab for one year and has worked in Dr. Cook’s lab for two years.

Sean Posner, a junior majoring in Health Science, expressed his admiration of the program. “I got a lot out of it [NH-INBRE SURP]. Primarily, I gained the ability to apply some topics I learned through this program throughout my academic career. I enjoyed it a lot, but I contribute this great experience to having a great mentor and an interesting research topic.”

Sean worked and performed research in Dr. Cook’s lab as a sophomore and rising junior.

“The most important aspect of the program is the connections students make with their faculty mentors in research thesis courses and the Summer Undergraduate Research Program,” Dunlop noted. “Best of all, these connections are life long as faculty continue to support alumni in their career paths and value sharing in the successes of our NEC alum.”

Collectively, the NH-INBRE SURP program facilities a consortium of opportunities for undergraduate students to be a part of top-level biomedical research alongside outstanding faculty members and biomedical researchers.

“The benefits of working in the INBRE program are invaluable,” Dunn concluded.

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