UMMC Graduate School's summer-research programs link local undergraduates with lab science
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JACKSON, Miss. – When Madison native Ben Rudsenske gets the inevitable question asking what he did last summer, he can say he worked to unravel the connections between low birth weight and diseases including diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.
Rudsenske finished a summer biomedical research program Aug. 2 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. Later this month he’ll return to Mississippi State University for his senior year as a biology major.
Rudsenske was among more than 60 undergraduates from around the state who enrolled in Discovery U programs this summer, sponsored by the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences at UMMC.
Through various programs, Discovery U exposes K-12 and undergraduate students to biomedical research. In its Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, or SURE program, Rudsenske and 37 other students got 10 weeks of hands-on biomedical research and training on laboratory techniques and equipment.
They attend Friday-lunchtime discussions on science-career paths, hosted by Medical Center faculty and post-doctoral fellows. And, as participants in the SURE program, they each received a $3,500 stipend.
“The SURE program not only gives undergraduate students hands-on research training, but opens up a world of career possibilities that they can pursue with a master’s or Ph.D in basic sciences. In fact, SURE is the main way we recruit for the graduate school,” said Dr. Joey Granger, UMMC distinguished professor of physiology and graduate school dean.
This year’s SURE program closed Aug. 2 with a half-day symposium where each participant presented his or her research in front of the other students, laboratory technicians, mentors and faculty members.
Dr. Michael Ryan, associate professor of physiology, co-directs Discovery U along with Dr. Michael Garrett, associate professor of pharmacology.
“In my view, one of the major benefits is giving students these opportunities is they can see how research is important to human health and disease,” Ryan said. “A lot of times students aren’t familiar with biomedical research so by bringing them in and going out to their classrooms, we build pipelines for the next generation of scientists.”
Mary Canterbury, Discovery U program administrator, said the caliber of students keeps improving. And number of young, scientific minds each year came away interested in the graduate school’s master’s and doctoral programs.
“This year we had undergraduates from colleges all over Mississippi and from Harvard, Carnegie Mellon and Notre Dame,” she said.
Rudsenske, a 2010 Madison Central High School graduate, worked in the laboratory of Dr. Barbara Alexander, UMMC associate professor of physiology. Alongside researchers, graduate students and lab staff he compared the metabolic function of low-birth-weight and normal-birth-weight rats via oral glucose-tolerance tests.
The experiments could shed light on why humans born less than 5.5 pounds experience higher rates of certain diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, as adults.
“I’d never really known about all the research going on at UMMC and this was a great way to learn about it,” Rudsenske said.
This summer, 62 undergraduates participated in Discovery U programs at the Medical Center. SURE accepted 38 students out of 175 applicants. The remaining 24 students were enrolled in various other Discovery U programs.
For more information on SURE, go to graduate-school.umc.edu/SummerResearch.html