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Sophomore Julie Sosa prepares samples of proteins for research involving the growth of pancreatic cancer cells.
A select group of
University of Delaware undergraduates spent their summer at a top cancer
center, experiencing the life of a medical researcher, honing their
laboratory skills and developing professional networks.
From investigating potential drug therapies that could target some of
the most deadly cancers to exploring the role genetic ancestry might
play in smoking and lung cancer, the four students spent an intensive 10
weeks working on a variety of projects.
“Everybody’s project is different, so when we get together we compare
notes and discuss our work,” said Emily Wong, a senior biological
sciences major who sees her future in medical research. “I’ve learned so
much this summer, and it’s just been an awesome experience.”
The students were selected to take part in a pilot partnership
between UD and Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, where they
worked in the center’s labs. While the project provided them with
valuable hands-on experience in a major research facility, it was
designed to go beyond the lab to include more comprehensive benefits as
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UD senior Franklin Iheanacho (center), with postdoctoral researcher Alexander Deneka and doctoral student Anna Kiseleva, investigates cell lines and how they respond to particular drugs.
“We wanted to not only promote their research experience but also to
provide extra layers of mentoring and skill building,” said Amanda
Purdy, manager of academic programs and training at Fox Chase. “We set
it up to be a well-rounded experience to help them develop their skills,
not matter what path they decide to take in the future.”In addition to their work with specific projects as part of a
research team under the guidance of an enthusiastic mentor, the students
met regularly with Purdy and others from the cancer center and sat in
on guest lectures and seminars.
Students worked on developing their scientific writing skills and
discussed how to both analyze and present research findings. They also
had the opportunity to shadow other professionals, including medical
doctors, to explore career options beyond research.
“We’re dedicated to training future generations of researchers, but
our job is not to brainwash these students into becoming scientists,”
said Glenn Rall, professor and associate chief academic officer at Fox
“These are good, motivated students who have a real interest in
medical research, so we want to give them the kind of exposure they
wouldn’t otherwise get, especially as undergrads.”
Maame Riverson (left), a UD junior, discusses data on genetic ancestry, smoking and lung cancer with research assistant Elizabeth Blackman (center) and Camille Ragin, Fox Chase researcher and associate professor.
The program was also designed for community building, with the four
students living together for the summer in a nearby house. Rall, who
invited the group to some social activities and often provided rides to
the grocery store, said they were immediately considered part of the Fox
“We see a continuing relationship, where they can always come back
here if they’d like to shadow someone or if they need a reference,” he
The participants were selected from a group of interested students in
UD’s NUCLEUS program, an undergraduate support program designed to
foster academic excellence among students in the College of Arts and
Sciences. The researchers who mentored the students also were carefully
selected, Rall said, from volunteers who particularly like working with
“These kids are terrific,” said one of those researcher-mentors, Edna
Cukierman, who supervised UD sophomore Julie Sosa, a biological
sciences major. “They were selected and supported, and we can really
help expose them to science and to what researchers really do all day in
Cukierman and the other mentors called the program a win-win for the
students and for Fox Chase. While learning research techniques, the
students also made valuable contributions to their projects that will
continue after the summer.
UD alumnus and supporter Tom Hofmann (center) attends the Undergraduate Research Symposium, where students (from left) Julie Sosa, Maame Riverson, Franklin Iheanacho and Emily Wong presented their research.
The cancer center is an educational institution, and it is
particularly interested in increasing diversity in the field of
research, to better reflect the diversity of the general population,
Purdy said. Working with students who are members of underrepresented
groups was a key goal of the pilot project.
The project, which Fox Chase and UD would like to continue and
gradually expand, was supported this year by the two institutions and by
UD alumnus Thomas Hofmann.
Hofmann, BE73, has generously
NUCLEUS program, allowing students to pursue a variety of undergraduate
research and internship opportunities.
As a member of UD's Presidential
Leadership Council and a board member at Fox Chase, Hofmann saw a
potential connection to benefit UD students and facilitated the summer
Participants in the summer program, who all presented their research at UD’s Undergraduate Research Symposium in August, were:
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Doug Baker