More than 30 undergraduate and high school students worked behind the curtain of biomedical research this summer at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC.

For eight weeks or longer, students worked in labs alongside world-class researchers, learning to use scientific instruments and advanced technology. They developed and completed research projects and presented their findings at two symposia.

The experience was part of the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program, presented by leading-edge scientists at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. In addition, Virginia Tech graduate students provided peer-to-peer education and guidance toward careers in science.

In addition to lab work, students attended lectures by Virginia Tech research scientists and faculty and learned essential skills for effective science communication and professional growth and development.

“The environment here provides our fellows with a truly immersive experience with constant opportunities to interact with, and learn from, trainees and faculty,” said James Smyth, associate professor with the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “At this very early stage of their careers in STEM, we believe this exposure provides a holistic perspective of all the potential career paths that may lie ahead.”

The young researchers presented their findings at the Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Symposium in Blacksburg and the third annual Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute on the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke.

“For many of these students, it’s their first time doing hands-on research in an independent way,” said Michael Fox, professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and director of Virginia Tech’s School of Neuroscience in the College of Science. “I heard one of the SURF fellows describe this summer as their first time in an adult lab – this program is truly transformative in the lives and future careers of each and every student that attends.”

The dose of youthful energy energizes the whole campus.

“The summer fellows provide a tangible boost of passion and energy that revitalizes the faculty, graduate students, other researchers here in Roanoke, along with our administrators and technical support teams  to continue in our charge to create a healthier future through science, for everyone,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech’s vice president for Health Sciences and Technology and the institute’s executive director.

The 2022 fellowship awardees, their home universities and high schools, and assigned labs are:

neuroSURF: Ten-week summer research experience geared toward hands-on, hypothesis-driven brain research in translational neuroscience.

  • Kaitiya Bowser, Spelman College, Stephanie DeLuca Lab
  • Mufaro Chiduza, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Alexandria DiFeliceantonio Lab
  • Abby Craig, Virginia Tech, Shannon Farris Lab
  • Samantha Hall, Juniata College, Wynn Legon Lab
  • Sydnee Harrison, Virginia Tech, Konark Mukherjee Lab
  • Marissa Incer, College of William & Mary, Read Montague Lab
  • Adithya Iyer, Virginia Tech, Stephen LaConte Lab
  • Rose Kaur, Virginia Tech, Warren Bickel Lab
  • Jamie LaGrange, Mary Baldwin University, Zhi Sheng Lab
  • Eleanor Little, Patrick Henry High School and Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, Carla Finkielstein Lab
  • Baitong Liu, Virginia Tech, Samy Lamouille Lab
  • Chu Luo, Smith College, Anthony LaMantia Lab
  • Riya Patel, Roanoke College, Brittany Howell Lab
  • McKenzie Proffit, Virginia Tech, Farris Lab
  • Amiaya Robinson, Virginia State University, Howell Lab
  • Khalema Salome, College of William & Mary, Bickel Lab
  • Penelope Smith, Patrick Henry High School and Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, John Chappell Lab
  • Deborah Thomas, Virginia Tech, Michael Fox Lab
  • Claire Wei, Cave Spring High School and Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, Fox Lab

MolVisSURF: Ten-week summer program that provides students with experience in cutting-edge imaging facilities housed within the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute to learn the fundamental underpinnings and appropriate application of each technology in understanding biological processes.

  • Maxwell Albrecht, Virginia Tech, Steve Poelzing Lab
  • Sumaita Arowa, Virginia Tech, Junco Warren Lab
  • Jessica Evans, Penn State, Smyth Lab
  • Waleed Iftikhar, University of Virginia, Chappell Lab
  • Emily McAlpin, Virginia Tech, Jessica Pfleger Lab
  • Omar West, Virginia Tech, Smyth and Lamouille Lab

CUBE SURF: Ten-week summer program hosted by the Center for Biostatistics and Health Data Science for undergraduate minority students in STEMprograms with an emphasis on diversity as it relates to the collaborative biostatistics and health data science professions.

  • Kinara Gasper, Harvard University
  • Kayla Williams, Ohio State University

CHBR SURF: Eight-week experience hosted by the Center for Health Behaviors Research designed to increase exposure to scientific research, provide educational and career mentorship, and foster an imagination for a career in science for underrepresented high school juniors and seniors from the Roanoke Valley.

  • Taniya Johnson, Patrick Henry High School, Brittany Howell Lab
  • Cassidy Mann, Radford High School, Jeff Stein Lab
  • Lyat Melese, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Bickel Lab
  • Stella Sun, Blacksburg High School, DiFeliceantonio Lab
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