Rutgers-Camden Establishes Summer Research Program for Undergraduates

CAMDEN — This summer, 10 undergraduate students are gaining critical research and professional development skills through a new program at Rutgers–Camden.

The Computational Biology Summer Program introduces students to an integrated approach to research that incorporates the biological sciences, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, and physics.

“This program 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 Rutgers–Camden’s Center for Computational and Integrative Biology (CCIB).

The 10-week program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and establishes the CCIB as a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site. An REU site consists of a group of undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution.

This summer marks the first year of the three-year grant awarded to Rutgers–Camden. Piccoli is the principal investigator for the project.

The Computational Biology Summer 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.

“These are students at a critical stage in their academic careers,” says Piccoli. “This program may inspire students who are interested in the sciences to focus their area of study or pursue a career in a STEM field.”  

Students accepted to the program this year are representing Burlington County College, Camden County College, and Rutgers–Camden. They are receiving a $5,000 stipend and are living on the Rutgers–Camden campus for the duration of the program.

Throughout the 10-week program, which began June 3, the students are mentored by Rutgers–Camden faculty members and graduate students through interactive workshops and research projects.

Each student is assigned to one of four research projects for which they will write a final report in the form of a scientific abstract and present their findings at the conclusion of the program. The research topics are: spatial patterning in ecosystems; group behavior in animals; engineering E. coli to produce biofuels; and deciphering the genetic basis of cell shape in plants.

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.

“This is my first time actually doing research and I’m especially interested in experiencing what the research process is like and gaining new skills,” says Tevin Wilson, an engineering major at Burlington County College from Westampton. “It will be helpful to have that experience through this program when applying to a four-year school.”

Julianne Thornton, a Berlin resident majoring in biology at Camden County College, says the program is helping her boost her research skills.

“I’m looking forward to learning how to write a research paper and how to present research findings while getting more experience in a lab setting,” Thornton says.

Bryan Gachomo, a Marlton resident majoring in biology at Rutgers–Camden, says the program is helping him apply classroom knowledge to a lab setting.

“Sometimes, the classroom work isn’t enough,” Gachomo says. “In the real world, they want to see how you can apply what you’ve learned in the classroom, so getting this experience now is beneficial in the long run. I’d like to go to medical school and this program is something that I hope helps get me there.”

The following students are participating in the Computational Biology Summer Program this year. Their hometowns and high schools are noted.

BURLINGTON COUNTY COLLEGE

Kelleshae Bryson (Westampton; Wolmer’s Trust High School for Girls, Jamaica); John Rapacz (Marlton; Edmond North High School, Oklahoma); Tevin Wilson (Westampton; Rancocas Valley Regional High School)

CAMDEN COUNTY COLLEGE

Sarah Kamal (Sewell; Washington Township High School); Paul Manofu (Cherry Hill; Cherry Hill High School East); Julianne Thornton (Berlin; Winslow Township High School)

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY–CAMDEN

Lyla Jno Baptiste (North Brunswick; North Brunswick Township High School); Bryan Gachomo (Marlton; Harrison High School, Indiana); Soumya Manikonda (Edison; West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South); Anna Waite (Collingswood; homeschooled)

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 atccib.camden.rutgers.edu/reu.

For more information about Rutgers–Camden news stories, visit us at news.camden.rutgers.edu

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