Over the summer, twenty-one femuthle undergraduate students had the opportunity to participate in the University of Cincinnati’s Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program. Over the span of twelve weeks, these students worked on research projects of various disciplines, including biology, physics, mathematics, mechanical engineering, and more. This year, two UC Clermont students were selected to participate in the research program: Janey Vandegrift and Truc Vu.
Janey Vandegrift is a College Credit Plus (CCP) student at UC Clermont. She is studying chemistry and is interested in fields such as pharmacy and physical therapy. Her project was titled “Nanocarriers for Acute Myeloid Leukemia Therapy,” and she explained that the goal of her project was to “apply vesicle-based nanocarrier system to a chemotherapy therapy drug, RAC1, which targets acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cancer cells.” She went on to note that “while this drug is effective against AML in a cell culture, when tested in mice it is degraded by enzymes in the bloodstream before it can effectively treat the cancer cells. Our results showed that the vesicles effectively slow down the degradation of RAC1, increasing its potential for targeting cancer cells.”
In the lab, she would prepare solutions, run tests on the chemicals, and make sure the lab equipment was clean and functional. She also attended the various workshops held during the WISE program, which gave the students important information on writing scientific papers, storing data, and applying to medical and graduate school. Her experiences over the summer also helped her significantly in the area of communication; at the end of the program, all research students were required to give a presentation detailing what they had accomplished.
Having a mentor during over the summer, Janey tells The Lantern, was invaluable. “My mentor, Dr. Cliff Larrabee, helped me every step of the way [by]giving me directions for experiments, analyzing the results, and answering my questions. As general chemistry was the extent of my relevant education, he also gave me resources to learn more about the science surrounding the project.” Dr. Larrabee was her professor in general chemistry, and he ultimately was the one who encouraged her to apply for the program. Although Janey is still determining what career path would be best for her, she states that the summer showed her that she enjoys technical lab work, and she would be interested in continuing with research in the future.
Truc Vu also had a unique experience in the program, working on a project titled “Effects of Urban Stream Burial on a Macroinvertebrate Community.” Truc is involved in a variety of ways at the UC Clermont campus; she is a Student Ambassador and is involved in the biology, chemistry, and foreign language club on the campus.
As a biology major, her project was interesting to her because it allowed her to explore a different area of biology than she planned on pursuing in the future. While Truc hopes to work more in the field of cellular and molecular biology, she explained that the benefits of this program included “the chance to work in a professional lab with other graduate students, attend informative workshop from WISE and be a part of the process of creating a new knowledge.” Most of Truc’s summer was spent in the field where she helped collect insects, identify them, and count the number of different macroinvertebrates. She explained that since she did not have a background in ecology, learning the proper experimental methods was as a bit of a challenge. However, with the guidance of those in her lab and after familiarizing herself with relevant literature, she was able to practice and significantly improve upon her skills.
Truc says that she felt supported by her mentor, Dr. Ishi Buffam, throughout the entirety of the project. For her, the greatest reward from the program was being able to accomplish each step of the research project and see tangible results from her work. “Since I started the program not knowing anything about the subject, it took a lot of time and work for me to do research; however, at the end, I was proud of myself to be able to present the project fluently and see how far I’ve come after twelve weeks,” she explains. Although Truc is not yet sure if she will continue doing research in the future, she does have a plan for what is next. Her goal is to continue focusing on her classes, gain a strong background in chemistry and biology, and apply to pharmacy school.
The WISE program came to an end on July 27th, culminating in the presentations of each student’s project. Each woman involved was able to not only gain familiarity in a research setting, but to obtain significant and meaningful results. Due to this program and all who supported it, these students have gained a better understanding of what it means to be a woman pursuing a STEM field and have learned how to better accomplish their goals.