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Ten undergraduates complete NIH & NSF sponsored summer internships in chemistry at Wesley


06.25.2013

Group picture (front row left to right); Wesley College students Maryeah Pavey, Tabitha Lambert, Brett Sansbury, Christine Rojas, (second row left to right); Victor DeBarros II, Laura Malinowski, Catie Gross, Gabriel Fernandez-Bueno, (back row left to right); Justin Collins, Ross Beauchamp and Wesley Professor of Chemistry Dr. Malcolm D’Souza.

Two long-term multi-institution interdisciplinary federal grants have been instrumental in growing the diverse STEM undergraduate research capacity at Wesley. The Delaware-INBRE (DE-INBRE; 8 P20 GM103446-13) program is the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) funded by the National Institute of General Medical Science at the National Institutes of Health (NIH-NIGMS) that focuses on building biomedical research capacity in Delaware. The Delaware-EPSCoR (DE-EPSCoR; EPS-0814251) program is the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) which is a federal grant of the National Science Foundation (NSF) that seeks to strengthen research in environmental systems and ecosystem health in Delaware. The lead institution for these two federal grants is the University of Delaware (UD).

DE-INBRE and DE-EPSCoR provide ongoing support to our Directed Research Program in Chemistry. Here undergraduates are given the unique opportunity to participate in mentored research projects both during the academic year and in full-time summer internships. The Directed Research Chemistry program (established in 2002) led by Dr. Malcolm J. D’Souza, has involved 81 students in undergraduate research, and has had a student retention rate of 92%. More than 80% of Directed Research participants have received competitive scholarships; several participants, including those from under-represented populations have earned significant scholarships to graduate and professional programs. Since 2002, 58 Chemistry students at Wesley have earned national awards/honors; and 48 undergraduates are co-authors on 41 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles. Additional NSF ARRA grant support for the renovation of several Wesley labs and cyber infrastructure upgrades to Cannon Hall were obtained in 2010.

In AY 2007-2008, Wesley College established a B.S. in Biological Chemistry program with Delaware State University (DSU) where its students take three upper division chemistry courses at DSU. In exchange, DSU students are allowed to enroll in up to three Wesley College science courses. There have been additional collaborative joint grant proposal submissions to federal agencies.

This summer, Ross Beauchamp, Justin Collins, Victor DeBarros II, Gabriel Fernandez-Bueno, Catherine Gross, Laura Malinowski, Tabitha Lambert, Maryeah Pavey, Christine Rojas, and Brett Sansbury are completing research projects on varied chemistry-related themes with special emphasis on closely-mentored well-designed projects at Wesley. The majority of this year’s undergraduate research participants are biological chemistry majors with the exception of Rojas, who is a biology major, and Pavey, who is a medical technology major.

Two biological chemistry student projects are of special note. Catie Gross, a first-generation college student began DE-INBRE supported undergraduate research in chemistry during her freshman year. Together with a peer Kaylee Miller, Gross analyzed a prominent peptide protecting group. In April 2013, the two students presented their work as a poster at the 245th National ACS Meeting in New Orleans and earned a Certificate of Merit. A poster detailing this research project was also one of sixty nationally chosen by the Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) to be showcased at Congress in April 2013 at their CUR-Posters on the Hill event. This summer Gross is in the process completing two additional chemistry projects; one experimental and, the second involves the design of a dynamic Wesley-INBRE web-page to promote our approaches to motivating student interest in biomedical research that have a convincing evidentiary basis of effectiveness. “Undergraduate research at Wesley is flexible, I am able to combine my interest in science with my computer skills by being engaged in two projects during my internship,” says Gross. “It is truly a unique experience that has already produced many opportunities for me.”

Another student, Brett Sansbury began DE-EPSCoR supported undergraduate chemical research in 2011. Her project involved the study of chlorothionoformate esters which are highly toxic, reactive, corrosive reagents that are commonly used to perform the analytical derivatization of highly polar compounds, and to prepare intermediates in the manufacture of several commercial products including fertilizers, insecticides, perfumes, adhesives, dyes, molding compounds, protective coatings, and crosslinking agents for hybrid material systems. Sansbury has presented the outcomes of her research as posters at two regional scientific meetings at UD, and at two national American Chemical Society (ACS) conferences. During each national ACS poster presentation; she earned a Certificate of Merit from the ACS – Division of Environmental Chemistry. Additionally in 2012, this DE-EPSCoR supported project was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Chemistry. This summer, Sansbury completes a second project that analyzes a second restricted chlorothionoformate that has commercial importance due to its activity and toxicity. "This internship has allowed me the opportunity to perfect lab techniques,” said Sansbury.  “It's been a great experience and has opened a lot of doors for me. Now that I'm graduating and looking ahead towards graduate school these skills will serve as the foundation for my growth as a research scientist."