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Mysteries in space, on earth and in the earth are being explored this summer at the University of Wyoming by visiting undergraduate students from Winston-Salem State University (WSSU).
Three WSSU students were selected by the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium and the UW Science Posse to participate in the 2011 summer undergraduate research fellowship. WSSU students are matched with graduate student mentors in the Science Posse. The Science Posse consists of graduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields that are passionate about science and education.
The fellowship program is part of an effort at UW to enhance educational diversity opportunities by promoting academic ties with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), says Nell Russell, UW associate vice president for Diversity, Employment Practices, and Equal Employment Opportunity.
For six weeks this summer the WSSU students have worked in a lab with a mentor graduate student where they gain real‐life, hands‐on research experience and UW credit for independent study research. Students are working in zoology and physiology, chemical and petroleum engineering, and physics and astronomy labs on campus.
Jonaa Smith, a WSSU molecular biology major from Charlotte, N.C., is investigating the electro-spinning of proteins with her Science Posse mentor Thomas Martinez-Servantez, chemical and petroleum engineering.
"Participating at UW addresses my academic and career interest by giving me a chance to do research and network with others who are in doing the same," says Smith, who is planning for a career in breast cancer research.
Her first impression of the UW campus occurred when she came across the life-size Tyrannosaurus rex statue standing guard outside the Geological Museum. "I thought it was so cool," Smith says.
Bridgette Parks of Kannapolis, N.C., is a WSSU senior earning a biology premed major degree with a minor in chemistry. She is seeking a career in obstetrics. With her Science Posse mentor Clark Cotton, zoology and physiology, Parks is examining whether hibernating prairie dogs accumulate calcium with their kidneys and if that later results in kidney stones. She believes the hands-on experience in the laboratory at UW will better prepare her the remainder of her schooling.
"I would definitely encourage other undergraduate students to apply for this research fellowship because it encompasses a lot," Park says.
The other WSSU fellowship participant is Monet McClain of Kings Mountain, N.C. She graduated from WSSU in May with a BS degree in chemistry and is enrolled in graduate school at North Carolina A&T State University. McClain is conducting a research project involving computational chemistry with Science Posse mentor is Sabrina Cales, physics and astronomy.
About her stay at UW, McClain calls an overnight visit at the Red Buttes Observatory south of Laramie "quite an eye opener to the field of astronomy."
Overall, McClain says the fellowship program is helping lead her towards her career plans of attending medical school and becoming a dermatologist.
The laboratory isn't the only place students have experienced during their stay; they have also enjoyed local summer activities such as Jubilee Days, hiking at Vedauwoo, horseback riding in the Snowy Range, and visiting Denver and Fort Collins, Colo.
The Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium and the Science Posse are dedicated to the partnership with WSSU.
Shawna McBride, Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium associate director, says NASA is committed to providing research opportunities to women and minorities in science and engineering.
"The partnership that has developed between the Wyoming NASA Space Grant program and Winston-Salem State University, an HBCU, provides a unique opportunity for minority students from a different area of the country to get involved in real-life research at the University of Wyoming and hopefully to consider careers in science-related fields," McBride says.
The program has proven to be of significant mutual benefit, says Don Roth, Science Posse director.
"WSSU students gain valuable expertise in energy and science and insight into workforce opportunities," Roth says. "Science Posse graduate students gain important understanding and perspective from interacting with the WSSU partners. "
As a result of the program's success the past two years, Roth says there is interest in expanding it and partnering with more historically black colleges and universities next year.
Funding for the summer undergraduate research fellowship is made possible through the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium, the UW Strategic Diversity Initiatives Committee, the School of Energy Resources, and the UW Science Posse.
Content Courtesy Pat Wolfinbarger