It’s a bit of a leap from studying theatre arts to looking for the genetic marker of a plant species, but for Amanda Ramirez of Toledo, funding and mentoring through the Science, Engineering and Technology Gateway Ohio (SETGO) program made it a possibility.
Ramirez, a second-year biotechnology student at Owens Community College, is one of 38 students on the BGSU campus this summer engaged in independent research through SETGO. The students are spending 10 weeks in hands-on projects, mentored by BGSU faculty in their labs, while receiving a $3,500 scholarship. Their projects range from directional ability in pigeons to alternative energy to computer science, wetlands restoration and astronomy.
The schedule is demanding. “They’re working on their projects at least five days a week for 10 weeks,” said Dr. Moira van Staaden, biology, who is co-director of SETGO along with Dr. Anne Bullerjahn of Owens. “It’s research, and you do what you have to do. But it’s giving you the chance to actually work in what will be your eventual environment.”
“With graduate school as competitive as it is, it’s so important for undergraduates to get themselves out there and get experience,” said senior Jennifer Noland, a nontraditional BGSU student with three children.
“My SETGO project is in quantitative ecology,” said the Portage resident, who is majoring in mathematics and minoring in biology. “I’m using my math skills to answer certain biological problems.” The project has the potential to trace the movements of sport fish by measuring mineral deposits accumulated in their skull bones before their release from Great Lakes hatcheries.
For Stacey Burris of Maumee, a second-year biology major from Owens, the summer project has been the first opportunity to actually apply what she has been learning in the classroom. She is cloning transcription factors from a major pathogen of soybeans. And even though the work initially did go smoothly, “it’s reaffirmed that this is what I want to do,” said Burris. “When things don’t work out as you planned, you have to adapt and change, and then when you finally get results, it’s so much more rewarding because of the effort you’ve put into it.”
The students seem to agree the experience has been productive. “Science always interested me, but I never felt I could apply myself as well as I could in theatre arts,” Ramirez said. “But our faculty mentors have welcomed inexperienced students with open arms, and I have never felt intimidated here. I’ve learned so much in the program.”
Developing student skills is a primary goal for Dr. Scott Rogers, chair of biology. His two SETGO students are involved in his ice core research, which looks for bacteria and fungi from a subglacial lake in Antarctica. He hopes the students will continue in his lab this fall. “They’re making culture plates for growing fungi and bacteria, and they have more than a dozen colonies growing already,” Rogers said. “When they extract the DNA and see something on a gel, they’re genuinely excited. I want to expose them to as many methods as possible this summer so they’re trained and ready to go.”
Funded by the National Science Foundation, SETGO is designed to increase the number of science, math, engineering and technology graduates in the region. In addition to the summer research program, it comprises a bridge program at Owens between high school and college, and student participation in an Art of Science Community, which meets periodically throughout the year.
The summer program also includes a weekly meeting of all the students to share information and hear from a faculty member about an area of science.
The students will show the results of their work in a poster session Aug. 14 in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union.