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College students learn about the biomedical sciences through SURF program

Ten college students interested in the biomedical sciences are spending the summer at Upstate through the College of Graduate Studies’ Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

The 10-week SURF program exposes college seniors to biomedical research and gives them the opportunity to formulate a proposal, carry out research under a faculty mentor, write a research paper and give an oral presentation on their projects.

“I was looking for another stepping stone,” said SURF student Clara Richardson, who graduated in three years from SUNY Cobleskill. “I did a lot of plant research at Cobleskill, but not a lot of biomedical research.”

Richardson is working in the lab of Mira Krendel, PhD, associate professor of Cell & Developmental Biology.

“It’s a very inviting environment in the lab,” Richardson, said. “Everyone really wants us to learn and they’re happy to teach us. They’re very flexible, too.”

Max Cravener, a rising senior majoring in biology at Lock Haven University in central Pennsylvania, is working in the lab of Gary Winslow, PhD, professor of Microbiology & Immunology.

Cravener said he was looking into possible summer internships when his academic advisor told him he’d be a good fit for the SURF program. “I’m interested in immunology and microbiology, and here I get to branch out,” he said.

In the Winslow lab, Cravener is working on a project involving host immune responses to bacterial pathogens.

“One of the first conversations I had with (Prof. Winslow) was an honest one about how I’m not going to make any major breakthroughs in eight weeks,” Cravener said. “So he gave me a project that’s a subset of one they’re working on, and I’m learning a lot.”

He is looking ahead to graduate school, and then a career teaching in higher education.

Richardson wants to work in the private sector for a couple of years to build on the skills she’s learning in the SURF program.

“This is a great opportunity for hands-on experience you don’t get at the undergraduate level,” she said.

Each SURF student receives a $3,000 stipend and housing. This summer’s program started June 6 and continues through Aug. 12. The program is competitive, with about 200 students applying each year.

The 2016 SURF students:

Maia Baskerville, Wells College; Lee Bauter, Le Moyne College; Max Cravener, Lock Haven University; Siddharta Dhakal, University of Louisiana at Monroe; Michael Dolan, Binghamton University; Rhiannon Gabriel-Jones, Bard College at Simon; Shelby Helwig, Lock Haven University; Alana MacDonald, Binghamton University; Elsie Odhiambo, Smith College; Clara Richardson, SUNY Cobleskill.

Upstate faculty serving as mentors are: Wenyi Feng (Biochemistry & Molecular Biology); Heidi Hehnly and Mira Krendel (Cell & Developmental Biology); Gary Chan, William Kerr, Gary Winslow (Microbiology & Immunology); Frank Middleton and Yunlei Yang (Neuroscience and Physiology); William Brunken (Ophthalmology); Juntao Luo (Pharmacology).

—Taken from With Distinction

Caption: Students in the College of Graduate Studies’ Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program visit Upstate’s DNA sequencing facility and learn from supervisor Vicki Lyle.

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