Team of scientists evaluates Emporia State’s undergraduate research program

April 17, 2012

Dr. Samuel Strada, right, asks a question of Dr. Kim Simons, Emporia State assistant professor in physical sciences, left, while Dr. Bruce Aronow, Dr. Tim Burnett and Dr. Anne Poduska listen. Strada, Aronow and Poduska were part of a team of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science that were touring ESU’s science labs on Thursday, April 12, 2012, in Emporia, Kan. Burnett, an associate professor in biological sciences at Emporia State, is the campus coordinator for the K-INBRE grant funding program.

A group of research scientists visited Emporia State University on Thursday, April 12, 2012, to evaluate the university’s undergraduate science research program funded by K-INBRE.

“We’d like to talk about K-INBRE and its impact on your campus,” Dr. Anne Poduska, senior program associate in the Research Competitiveness Program for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told a group of university officials at lunch.

K-INBRE is the acronym for Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, a collaborative effort whose mission is “to strengthen the biomedical research infrastructure throughout Kansas” through a network that fosters a community of scientists.

The team of four from AAAS spent the day meeting with university officials as well as science faculty and undergraduates conducting research funded by K-INBRE. The AAAS team included Poduska along with:

  • Dr. Bruce Aronow, professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Computational medicine Center at Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation;
  • Dr. George M. Langford, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University; and
  • Dr. Samuel Strada, dean of the College of Medicine and senior associate dean for basic sciences at the University of South Alabama.

Along the way, the team asked about courses taught at Emporia State, how students and their faculty mentors first connected with each other, what kind of collaboration is happening with researchers at other institutions and what students’ future plans are.

Dr. Rod Sobieski, former dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, shared with the group the challenges researchers had to overcome in the days before K-INBRE support. Sobieski told of having to borrow equipment from other labs and lobbying to purchase new equipment during a time in which all such purchases across campus came through the president’s office.

“It took seven years to get a $700 piece of equipment,” Sobieski recalled.

Since 2001, Emporia State has received nearly $1 million of funding from K-INBRE. Most of the monies have paid for new equipment in the university’s chemistry and biology labs. More than $200,000 has gone to undergraduate researchers as semester and summer scholarships.

Because the K-INBRE program is aimed exclusively at undergraduate research and involves direct mentoring from faculty, it provides a strong advantage for Emporia State students who go on to graduate school or directly into the workplace, Dr. Gary Wyatt, associate dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences said.

Wyatt recounted his role debriefing students at the end of their summer research. What began with well-considered plans invariably included something unexpected that had to be dealt with.

“They all said dealing with unforeseen events was probably the most important academic experience of their life,” Wyatt said.

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