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UD student Deeanne Almeida prepares test tubes in a lab at the Fox
Chase Cancer Center, where researchers are trying to find a treatment
for PKU, a rare genetic disorder.
Deeanne Almeida always liked her high school science classes — but doing assignments for those classes in the lab? Not so much.
“I just never liked that part of it, being in the lab,” said Almeida,
a sophomore majoring in neuroscience at the University of Delaware.
“But now, after my experience this summer, I definitely want to get
more involved in research. Working in a real lab is so different from
what you get in a classroom lab.”
What changed Almeida’s mind was the 10 weeks that she and three other
UD undergraduates spent in a special program this summer at Fox Chase
Cancer Center in Philadelphia.
Through the University’s NUCLEUS
academic-support program, the students were able to work in the
center’s labs with top-notch cancer researchers. They also took part in a
full schedule of mentoring and skill-building sessions designed to help
prepare them for future graduate studies and expose them to a variety
of careers in science and medicine.
“This program has been a really good opportunity, and I think that
anyone who’s thinking about [a career in] research would benefit from
it,” said Carissa Walkosak, a junior biological sciences major who is in
the Medical Scholars program at UD. “I’m still planning on medical
school, but I’ve learned a lot of new skills this summer, and I think
research will be part of my future.”
NUCLEUS and Fox Chase partnered to
develop the summer program, which began last year and is still
considered in its pilot phase. Organizers hope it will continue and
expand in the future.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Yasmin Mann (right) works in a lab with researcher Anna Kiseleva, who is investigating the effects of certain anti-cancer drugs on the cell signaling process that can enable tumors to spread.
Meanwhile, administrators are tweaking the details of the program as
they learn from the students and their experiences, according to Fox
Chase’s Amanda Purdy, manager of academic programs and training, and
Glenn Rall, professor and associate chief academic officer.
“Last year’s students were a terrific group, and we got great
feedback from them about the program,” Rall said. “So, thanks to
Amanda’s work, we’re offering an even deeper, richer experience this
year. This is not just copy and paste from last year’s success.”
Purdy said this year’s summer fellows had additional training on how
to analyze and present the results of their research and attended a
series of talks about careers from guest speakers including a genetic
counselor and a surgeon. Like last year, she said, the four students
lived together in a house near the center and were invited to social
activities as part of the Fox Chase family.
“I feel very strongly that living together helps build a sense of
community,” Purdy said. “They work in different labs, and their research
is all very different, so they need a chance to be together and just
talk about what they’re learning.”
The application and selection process for the students began early in
the year, with interested NUCLEUS students making two separate site
visits to Fox Chase, said Rosalind Johnson, assistant dean for student
success in the College of Arts and Sciences.
During a brief coffee break in a Fox Chase lunchroom, the UD students look over material they will use to prepare presentations about their research.
“The students spent the day there and got an overview of the
facilities, a tour, some hands-on lab experience and lunch with staff,”
Johnson said. They also met with more experienced students who were
taking part in training programs at Fox Chase.
Eighteen students participated in the site visits and were invited to
apply to the program; 13 applied, and four were selected as research
“It didn’t feel so much like a formal application process,” said
Yasmin Mann, a junior majoring in biological sciences and neuroscience,
who was selected for this year’s program. “It honestly felt as though we
were being introduced to this really cool opportunity to see if it was
the best fit for us.”
The four students have proved themselves highly qualified,
hard-working and enthusiastic, Purdy said after leading a recent session
in which she and Rall offered guidance on preparing oral and poster
presentations in a way that makes research relevant to an audience.
The students put those lessons into practice when they presented findings at UD’s Undergraduate Research Symposium on Aug. 9:
Deeanne Almeida conducted research on PKU, a rare genetic
disorder in which patients must follow a very specific and expensive
diet to avoid severe neurological damage. The lab where Almeida worked
is using small molecule therapeutics to look for a non-dietary approach.
Elizabeth Habash, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences,
worked in a lab studying colorectal cancer and focusing on a
tumor-suppressor gene known as p53. When mutations of p53 occur, those
mutations contribute to tumor progression and aggressiveness.
Yasmin Mann studied the effects of certain anti-cancer drugs on
the signaling process that enables cells to communicate with other cells
and with their environment. The research focused on cilia, tiny
structures on the outside of cells that resemble hairs and act something
Carissa Walkosak studied a rare type of cancer called GIST
(gastrointestinal stromal tumors) and investigated a protein that might
play in role in treating it. Traditional chemotherapy and radiation
aren’t effective on GIST, and patients often develop a resistance to the
drug that is used, so researchers are exploring possible combination
Students in the UD summer program share their experiences during a
lunch with NUCLEUS supporter Tom Hofmann ’73. From left are Amanda
Purdy and Glenn Rall of Fox Chase, Carissa Walkosak, Yasmin Mann,
Elizabeth Habash, Hofmann and Deeanne Almeida.
Fox Chase Cancer Center provides inpatient and outpatient clinical care, conducts research and offers professional education and training programs.
The summer program with UD is part of the center’s educational
mission, as well as its efforts to increase diversity in the field of
research, to better reflect the diversity of the general population,
Fox Chase research mentors, who were selected specifically
to work with the University undergraduates, described the program as
“I think this is a great opportunity for young students to be
involved in real research,” said Anna Kiseleva, who mentored Mann. “And
Yasmin has been very involved in all aspects of the process. She wants
to know everything, and of course, she helps me a lot too.”
The project was supported by the University, the cancer center and by
UD alumnus Thomas Hofmann, BE73, who has generously supported NUCLEUS,
allowing students to pursue a variety of undergraduate research and
A grant from UD Career Services allowed
interested students to make two introductory site visits to Fox Chase as
part of the application and selection process.
NUCLEUS is an undergraduate support program open to all College of Arts
and Sciences students. The program fosters academic excellence by
providing students with comprehensive academic services, connections,
opportunities and information.
NUCLEUS students receive:
Undergraduate Research opportunities
Connection to enriching campus resources
Learning space for studying and group work
Enhanced skill development through student success courses
Understanding of academic standards and requirements
Support through supplemental advisement
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Amanda Purdy