An Exceptional Opportunity

March 7, 2014

Amanda Nagy

Two STEM students have been awarded a summer research internship through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP).

Third-year student Michelle Johnson, a neuroscience major and chemistry minor, and Megan Michel, a third-year biology major with chemistry and history minors, have been accepted into the program. The award provides 10 weeks of full-time research in the lab of an HHMI scientist, a $4,500 stipend, participation in a local summer research program with other undergraduate researchers, and long-distance travel and housing expenses covered by HHMI.

The program links motivated undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds and groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences with outstanding summer research experiences. HHMI continues to work with EXROP students after their summer study programs to encourage them to pursue careers in academic science.

To be accepted, students must be nominated by an HHMI professor or a director of an HHMI-funded undergraduate program at a college or university. Once accepted into the program, students are matched with HHMI scientists who have volunteered to provide mentored research experiences. EXROP students may be eligible for continued support in a second summer research experience in the same lab and in their doctoral education through other HHMI grant programs.

Johnson will work in the laboratory of Susan Ackerman at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. Ackerman is working to identify and analyze the genes, pathways, and networks involved in the age-related death of neurons in the central nervous system.

Johnson, who is from Alpharetta, Georgia, says she is interested in the effects of genetics on multisensory integration, and in the future she would also like to explore research opportunities dealing with neurodegeneration. She is currently doing lab work with Assistant Neuroscience Professor Leslie Kwakye. She intends to apply to PhD programs next year. “I hope to one day be a college professor and researcher at an institution like Oberlin that values professor-student interactions,” she says.

Michel, who is from Ashland, Ohio, will work in the lab of Matthew Warman at Boston Children's Hospital, and as part of her internship she will participate in a summer research experience at Harvard University. Warman studies skeletal growth and maintenance and the detection and treatment of rare genetic skeletal diseases, as well as more common ailments such as osteoarthritis. His research spans clinical medicine and laboratory research, studying genetic diseases to improve the treatment of actual patients.

At Oberlin, Michel has been working with Professor of Biology Yolando Cruz to develop her honors project. She is studying abroad this spring with the Oberlin-in-London program, and she plays on Oberlin’s women’s soccer team. She says she intends to pursue a PhD in disease ecology or paleopathology, and she hopes to perform research and teach at an undergraduate institution.

In addition to doing laboratory research, all EXROP students attend two meetings at HHMI’s headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to present their research in a poster session.

Since the program’s inception in 2003, 654 undergraduates have been matched with HHMI investigators, professors, group leaders, and early career scientists. Of the 370 EXROP alumni who have earned a baccalaureate degree, 362 are in science careers, including 186 who went into graduate programs.

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