Enrich your education with undergraduate research – News

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Rebecca A. Eckland

Mary Andres is in her second semester at TMCC; she is preparing for an associate of science degree that will allow her to transfer to NUR where she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with the goal of one day going to medical school to become a practicing psychiatrist. Yet, her journey at TMCC began last year as part of the Summer Bridge program, which connected her with several academic opportunities. One, in particular, won her over: a research immersion internship program offered by the Desert Research Institute (DRI).

The 16-week paid program pairs students with researchers working on specific projects. After an initial training period, students work with mentors, DRI researchers, on scientific, technological and entrepreneurial projects. Three TMCC students, including Andres, participated in the research internship pilot program in 2021.

DRI faculty mentor Riccardo Panella, Ph.D., (left) of the Center for Genomic Medicine and Truckee Meadows Community College student Mary Andres (right) use a bright light to view a sample in the laboratory of Panella in Reno.

Andres was paired with DRI Professor Riccardo Panella, who was working on a research project that investigated obesity-related health issues by examining lipid profiles and liver enzymes in mice. “When I came to DRI, they explained that we were working on this cutting edge new technology on how to reverse obesity through RNA-based treatments,” Andres explained. “I realized…wow, that’s actually really cool.”

When she started her internship, Andres had not yet taken college-level science courses. However, as a result of her work with her research mentor, she was learning how a particular type of microRNA not only targets tumor suppressors in the body, but also impacts metabolism. Under the guidance of his mentor, Andres tested HDL and LDL levels taken from mice used in the research. The study used five different groups of mice to study the effects of microRNA. The results were not at all what Andres expected.

“So I asked my mentor, ‘…why would you take this drug if you could just diet and lose weight anyway?’ He told me that people don’t really want to diet, they always want to have their McDonald’s no matter how badly they want to lose weight, so drugs like this could really help people,” a- she said. “Plus, [the results of our research indicated that this] was much more effective at losing weight than just dieting.

Undergraduate Research: What Can You Earn?

The opportunities for TMCC undergraduates to conduct research aren’t exactly new. For several years, the Summer Bridge program (of which Andres was a part) has presented high school students with opportunities through biology research. More recently, however, research has sprung up in all sorts of unexpected disciplines with interests as varied as the imagination can create. It’s no wonder, then, that this year the TMCC is providing a venue for students of all disciplines to showcase their research prowess.

The TMCC Undergraduate Research Showcase takes place Thursday, March 10 at the Dandini Campus Student Center. The event will feature student-created posters detailing individual and group research projects in biology, anthropology, mathematics, and more, which will be on display throughout the day.

In addition to showcasing student work, the Undergraduate Research Showcase will also feature a myriad of research opportunities for curious students who want to learn more about research opportunities like the Research Immersion Internship Program DRI. Some will be on credit and others, like the DRI opportunity, are paid. No matter how your hours are allocated, however, chances are you’ll find value in the time spent working in STEM fields, practicing hands-on research methods.

According to Meghan Collins, education program manager at DRI, these types of experiences can help students find career paths that may not have been obvious to them at first, but which could offer rewarding and rewarding activities. rewarding. “The research immersion internship is specifically designed to be a springboard. DRI offers the ideal framework for this. And really, there are two goals for our program: to provide this career discovery experience so that people can make informed choices about their careers. The second goal is that we want to broaden participation and create a thriving STEM ecosystem with not only science majors, but also communications majors, business majors, and others who feel comfortable working with the science,” she said.

Students who are in their first or second year at a community or state college, regardless of major, can apply for the 120-hour paid internship. The only requirements are that you have an interest in some aspect of science and that your schedule allows for eight hours of internship per week during the semester. Only fifteen places remain available for the 2022 cohort. If selected, a student will work in a project team under the supervision of a mentor, in a group of no more than four people.

Adine Stormoen, associate director of Northern Nevada outreach for INBRE Nevada, said opportunities to perform undergraduate research, such as the undergraduate research experiences available through Nevada’s INBRE and the DRI immersion internship, can make a big difference in a student’s career, regardless of their major. . “Exposing students to research is so important. Even if a student is an English major, the research experience can open many doors. They can start with something like the DRI Immersion Internship and then eventually we can prepare them for more advanced programs and opportunities,” she said. “That’s why events like the TMCC Undergraduate Research Showcase are so important.”

According to last year’s cohort of the DRI Immersion Internship, participating students saw a marked improvement in their STEM literacy and self-efficacy, while feeling supported in their professional and career trajectories. As a result of the internship, students reported an increased ability to solve problems using the tools provided by science and technology, and greater confidence to take the next step in a STEM career. Most importantly, they felt comfortable and confident working with scientists in science, technology, engineering, and/or math.

One participant said, “After participating in this program, I am inspired to keep learning and to keep doing research.

New pathways inspired by STEM

Andres, too, was inspired by her internship at DRI. His mentor, Panella, encouraged his mentees to maintain an attitude of curiosity…to, as he told his mentees when they first met, “…be confused.”

“He encouraged us to be in the moment, and if we had questions to ask them, and that the only dumb question is the one you don’t ask. It really stuck with me because it’s so true,” she said. “If there’s one piece of advice I would give anyone I learned doing this research, it would be to not be shy about asking questions. The sooner you ask, the sooner you’ll be unblocked, and the sooner all the everyone can move on.

Mary Andres prepares test tubes in a laboratory.

Andres prepares the reagents needed to analyze lipid profiles and liver enzymes in a study conducted by DRI’s Center for Genomic Medicine. The results of these experiments will pave the way for a new generation of RNA-based therapies to treat metabolic disorders and prevent cancer progression.

From a curious student of science, Andres is taking bold new steps towards her future as a researcher. She extended her internship at DRI and recently submitted an application for the Faculty-Led Academic Research Experience (FLARE) through the University of Nevada, Reno. “I’m having so much fun learning like this,” she said. “It’s not information that you just find by searching the internet. It’s really fun – it’s learning all these new things and how to improve people’s lives in general.

Although the path has been rewarding, it has also been difficult; in addition to his internship at DRI, Andres was taking five TMCC three-credit courses and volunteering at the TMCC Counseling Center, and these are also experiences that give meaning to his education and grow into a professional psychiatrist. “It was tough, especially on exam days, and I really had to stay on top of my homework. But honestly, I don’t regret it. It was an enriching experience, and I acquired all this professional experience already before leaving the university. You can dip your toe into the real world in a way.

For Andres, nothing beats immersing himself in research. Unlike taking a course, the elements of discovery and working with the unknown make the job appealing. “The fun part of research is the discovery…it just opens up your world so much more than never trying it. I think students miss a lot if they don’t even try it once,” he said. she declared.

Interested? Stop by the Student Center on Thursday, March 10 to immerse yourself in the many opportunities offered by undergraduate research.

For more information on undergraduate research opportunities at TMCC, contact our Undergraduate Research Office.

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