Undergraduate Students Gain Research Experience Through Computational Biology Summer Program

Summer Computational Biology

Students (from left to right) Coraima Medellin, Umair Tariq, and Salamatu Kamara are participating in the Computational Biology Summer Prorgam at Rutgers-Camden.

There’s a lot of trial and error in research and, as many students can attest, it takes quite a number of tries before a study yields an optimal result.

“It doesn’t always go smoothly, but you have to learn as you go. There’s a lot of value in that,” says Coraima Medellin, a Camden County College graduate.

Medellin is one of ten undergraduate students gaining valuable hands-on research experience for the first time through the Computational Biology Summer Program at Rutgers University–Camden. The 10-week program introduces participants to an integrated approach to research that incorporates the biological sciences, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and physics.

“Research is very important to the sciences and I’m happy to have had a chance to work on a project from beginning to end,” says Medellin, who is studying how mercury affects fungal growth rates in the Pinelands. “This program has given me skills I’ll need as I work toward my career goals.”

Beginning this fall, Medellin will attend the University of Pennsylvania, where she plans to major in biological basis of behavior, a discipline that combines biology, psychology, and neuroscience. The Winslow Township resident says the Rutgers–Camden summer program is providing the framework for multi-disciplinary study.

“There aren’t many opportunities for undergraduate students to do research like this,” says Joshua Lee, a sophomore biomedical engineering major at Rutgers–New Brunswick who is participating in the program. “It has given us real experience on projects that impact a variety of fields and it’s a stepping stone for students to go into other research programs later on in our careers.”

This summer marks the second year for the 10-week program, which is funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant establishes Rutgers–Camden’s Center for Computational and Integrative Biology (CCIB) as a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site, in which a group of undergraduates work within the research programs of a host institution.

The program is open to students from throughout the United States and targets those enrolled in community colleges, non-traditional students, veterans, and students from communities underserved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines.

Summer CCIB

Fatim Sannoh (left) and Joshua Lee study in one of Rutgers-Camden’s many research labs.

In addition to Camden County College and Rutgers–New Brunswick, students enrolled in the program this year come from Brandeis University, The College of New Jersey, Georgia Gwinnett College, Neumann University, Rice University, and the University of Puerto Rico.

“The program is really expanding my knowledge in many different areas,” says Salamatu Kamara, a Camden County College graduate who will attend Thomas Jefferson University in the fall. “That’s very advantageous, to have real research experience at this level.”

Each participant is assigned to one of five multi-disciplinary research projects focusing on the following areas of study: ecosystems, animal groups, synthetic engineering for bio-fuel production, cell shapes in plants, and hormonal regulation of a receptor found in the brain.

“It allows students who would otherwise not have an opportunity to study computational biology gain meaningful experience in the field,” says Benedetto Piccoli, the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair in Mathematics at Rutgers–Camden and Ph.D. program director for the CCIB. “It will hopefully inspire students who are interested in the sciences to focus their area of study or pursue a career in a STEM field.”

Throughout the 10-week program, which began May 27, the students are being mentored by Rutgers–Camden faculty members and graduate students. In addition to research experience, the students receive computational biology training, professional skills development, and enrichment sessions geared toward broadening their understanding of the issues surrounding scientific research.

“The program has given me a whole new perspective and an experience I’ve never had before,” says Fatim Sannoh, a junior biology and pre-med student from Neumann University in Aston, Pa. “I can apply the skills I learn here to my undergraduate experience and, eventually, to medical school.”

Each student will present a final report on their research findings during a poster session on Friday, Aug. 1 from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.in the Science Building on the Rutgers–Camden campus.

“I’ve met amazing professor here and just being able to ask them questions and gain insight into their own research has been valuable and has helped to expand my own knowledge of other aspect of science,” says Umair Tariq, a Camden County College student who will attend Rowan University in the fall.

The Rutgers–Camden Center for Computational and Integrative Biology combines the expertise of researchers from traditional biomedical disciplines — such as biology, chemistry and psychology — with the analytic methods employed by mathematicians, physicists and computer scientists to understand how individual biological systems work.

For more information about the CCIB visit ccib.camden.rutgers.edu.

More information about the Computational Biology Summer Program can be found at ccib.camden.rutgers.edu/reu.

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