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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

May 2020

Scholars share research, show resilience at spring symposium

Students presenting research at the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program symposium switched to sharing from their homes, via video connection.

Members of the eighth class of the NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) presented their research at a revamped spring symposium on April 10. The scholars pivoted to online presentations in their homes, avoiding contact to slow the spread of COVID-19. The 11 new members of this year’s group began developing and conducting mentored research projects last June.

“NSCP is one of the ways we increase the number of students from underrepresented groups in the sciences, and especially, environmental health sciences,” said Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the Office of Science Education and Diversity, which offers the program. “The program is open to all students with serious interest in biomedical research and careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering, math].”

Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D. and Ericka Reid, Ph.D. standing with class of 2020 NIEHS Scholars Connect Program Reid, right, and Bhattacharjee, left, said all participants grow tremendously as young scientists. See slideshow below for scholars’ names and more. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Strengthening professional skills

Research experience is complemented by activities that build professional skills such as communication, leadership, interviewing, and near-peer mentoring. For example, new this year were presentations on emerging areas of research and a journal club at which students shared with peers a research paper central to their own project.

“In addition to the support from their mentors and labs, the students meet individuals from across NIEHS,” said coordinator Suchandra Bhattacharjee, Ph.D. “These include top leadership, lead researchers, scientists, Office of Intramural Training and Education and Office of Fellows Career Development [OFCD] representatives, postbaccalaureate and postdoctoral fellows, and many others who help inform educational choices and career paths.” She highlighted the integral support from teaching partners at the lab skills boot camp, presentation judges, advisory group members, and many others.

Stretching beyond NIEHS

Scholars are encouraged to present their work outside NIEHS as well. This year they were registered at eight different conferences, although some were cancelled as the novel coronavirus spread.

  • 2019 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
  • 2020 Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.
  • 2020 National Conference of Undergraduate Research.
  • 2019 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science.
  • 2020 Society of Toxicology (SOT).
  • 2019 State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium.
  • 2020 Symposium for Young Neuroscientists and Professors of the South East.
  • 2019 Women’s Undergrad Research Conference.

“Some of our scholars will publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, including a first author paper — an incredible achievement for an undergraduate researcher,” said Bhattacharjee.

The NIEHS Scholars Connect Program hosted eight groups of students between 2012 and 2020, with 55 scholars completing the program. Many shared with us where they went next. Where Did They Go? Next Steps, 23 internships, 27 graduate programs, 7 career positions. Note: Some scholars fall into more than one group.

(Photo courtesy of NIEHS)

Recognizing excellence

Outstanding students are recognized with awards. This year’s spring presentations were not judged due to the format changes.

  • Iris Salswach Cadena, from North Carolina State University (NCSU), received the Outstanding Scholar Award in recognition of her research, engagement, and overall excellence.
  • Best Poster: Naudia Gay, from St. Augustine’s University. Honorable mention: Samuel Goldstein, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).
  • Best Elevator Pitch: Salswach Cadena, from NCSU. Honorable Mention: Trina Phan, from NCSU.

NIEHS-SOT Undergraduate Scholar

Arianna Lawrence, a senior at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) completing her second year of NSCP, was named the first NIEHS-SOT Undergraduate Scholar. “The scholar is assigned a mentor who is a toxicologist and member of SOT, and is expected to present at the SOT conference and participate in the SOT Undergraduate Diversity Program,” explained Reid. “Arianna received a very competitive travel award, although the conference was cancelled due to COVID 19,” she added. Phan and Goldstein also received conference travel awards.

“The scholars showed resiliency in meeting the challenges of COVID-19 and doing a phenomenal job with their presentations,” said Bhattacharjee. “We celebrate the diversity and uniqueness each one brought to the program, and we cherish all their accomplishments.

Planning is underway for the ninth group of scholars, to begin this fall.

Arianna Lawrence NIEHS-SOT Undergraduate Scholar Lawrence is a senior at NCCU who will graduate with a major in biomedical sciences and a minor in Spanish.
Katelyn Bouthillier William Peace University senior Bouthillier is majoring in biology and minoring in forensic science.
Margaret Chapman Senior Chapman has majors in both integrative physiology and neurobiology, with minors in genetics and ethics at NCSU.
Salswach Cadena NCSU senior Salswach Cadena will complete a major in human biology and a minor in chemistry.
Naudia Gay Gay, a senior at St. Augustine’s, is combining a major in biology with a minor in computer information.
Samuel Goldstein Goldstein, a senior at UNC, is majoring in environmental health science.
Maira Haque Junior Haque is majoring in both human biology and chemistry at NCSU.
James Horng Horng is a chemistry and nutrition major at UNC, completing his junior year.
Tatlock Lauten Senior Lauten, from NCSU, studies molecular and cellular biology.
Trina Phan Genetics major Phan, a junior at NCSU, is minoring in ethics.
Tatianna Taylor Biological and biomedical sciences major Taylor is a senior at NCCU.
Elizabeth Van-Gorder Junior Van-Gorder is majoring in biology at UNC, with minors in chemistry and German.

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