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Environmental Factor, September 2012

Ideas and independence highlight NIEHS summer internship poster session

By Ian Thomas

Bill Schrader, Ph.D., and Diana Dayal of Enloe High School in Raleigh, N.C.

Dayal, right, heads off to her first year in college as a winner in the high school competition. Schrader, left, presented the awards at a ceremony and ice cream social following the poster session. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

Bill Schrader, Ph.D., and Kaushik Annam of the University of Pennsylvania

Rising senior Annam was obviously pleased with this addition to his CV. (Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)

Two months of hard work, dedicated research, and extensive laboratory training came to a close on July 26, as the 2012 NIEHS summer interns gathered in Rodbell Auditorium for the program’s poster session, where students from across the country showcased what they’ve learned during their time at the Institute.

“The purpose of this program is to have fun, learn some environmental bioscience, and get students exposed to what it’s like to do science in the real world,” said NIEHS Deputy Scientific Director Bill Schrader, Ph.D. “Once they’ve gotten acclimated to life in the lab, they go to work on an actual research project of their own, and this poster session is the culmination of all of that hard work and effort.”

Learning by doing

The core component of the NIH Summer Internship Program (SIP) at NIEHS is its commitment to giving students hands-on experience in a world-class biomedical research setting, by pairing them with members of the NIEHS intramural research team. Through this mentoring partnership, NIEHS interns learn, firsthand, what it means to conduct experiments and analyze data.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on independence in this program,” said Nick Tobey, a recent graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics who will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill beginning this fall. “Interns or not, we’re responsible for the work that we do and we’re given the tools to do it. It really is a fantastic way to learn.”

Although their mentors are always on hand for guidance and suggestions, students’ success ultimately comes from their ability to take what they’re taught and use it to generate new ideas.

“My mentor edited the contents of my poster but, at the end of the day, I was responsible for writing all of it,” explained Karlie Haug, a college senior from Carleton College in Minnesota, who worked in the Laboratory of Molecular Carcinogenesis under Trevor Archer, Ph.D. “It was definitely a struggle at times, but I really feel like I learned a lot about research, as a whole, by doing it on my own.”

Head of the class

In the end, top honors were given to the highest rated high school, undergraduate, and graduate student posters, as judged by a panel of NIEHS scientists and postdocs.

“There were a lot of remarkable projects out here today, so I was surprised and thrilled to have mine picked as one of the winners,” said Bridget Mayer, a third-year veterinary student at North Carolina State University, who worked in the Comparative Medicine Branch under Terry Blankenship-Paris, D.V.M. “This entire process has been an amazing journey of discovery, and I just hope that my mentor and lab mates can use my work to benefit theirs moving forward.”

(Ian Thomas is a public affairs specialist with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)


Xianhong (Linda) Yu; lead researcher Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D.; Christopher Newport University senior Alejandra Vall; Xiaohua Gao, M.D., Ph.D.; Maria Sifre; and Yitang Yan, Ph.D.

It takes a community of mentors to nurture young scientists, such as Christopher Newport University senior Alejandra Vall, third from left. Shown at her poster, left to right, are Xianhong (Linda) Yu; lead researcher Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D.; Vall; Xiaohua Gao, M.D., Ph.D.; Maria Sifre; and Yitang Yan, Ph.D.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


Kymberly Gowdy, Ph.D., and Yasmin Crespo-Mejias

An important part of the poster competition is explaining the summer project to the NIEHS postdocs who served as judges. Intern Yasmin Crespo-Mejias, right, a rising senior at the University of Puerto Rico, described her research to judge Kymberly Gowdy, Ph.D.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


Komal Patel, Jasmin Huang, and Priyanka Venkannagari

The summer internship involved a lot of work, but there was also time to make friends. Shown above, left to right, are interns Komal Patel and Jasmin Huang, students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Priyanka Venkannagari, a rising senior at Enloe High School.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


Bill Schrader, Ph.D., and Bridget Mayer

Mayer enters her final year of D.V.M. training with experience in the care of laboratory animals.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


Sue Fenton, Ph.D., Elon University graduate Kyle Herbert, and NTP group leader Angela King-Herbert, D.V.M.

Scientific curiosity runs in the family of Elon University graduate Kyle Herbert, center, who joined his NIEHS mentor, lead researcher Sue Fenton, Ph.D., left, and his proud mother, NTP group leader Angela King-Herbert, D.V.M. Kyle’s father, Ron Herbert, D.V.M., Ph.D., is also a group leader with NTP.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


Mount Holyoke College rising junior Morgan Linney, postdoc mentor Rachel Goldsmith, Ph.D., center, and lead research Jonathan Freedman, Ph.D.

Along with group leaders, postdocs play an important part in the summer experience. Mount Holyoke College rising junior Morgan Linney, left, joined postdoc mentor Rachel Goldsmith, Ph.D., center, and lead research Jonathan Freedman, Ph.D., at Linney’s poster.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


North Carolina Central University rising junior Michael Lekwuwa

As he looked forward to ice cream and a break before getting back to classes, North Carolina Central University rising junior Michael Lekwuwa, right, was ready to loosen his tie and enjoy time with fellow interns.(Photo courtesy of Michael Garske)


2012 SIP Poster Session Winners

  • High School — Diana Dayal of Enloe High School in Raleigh, N.C., “Testing for Xenobiotic Disruption of Calcium Oscillations in Rat Pituitary Cells,” with lead researcher David Armstrong, Ph.D.
  • Undergraduate — Kaushik Annam of the University of Pennsylvania, “Association between Serum Levels of Environmental Contaminants in the US Population and Antinuclear Antibodies: A Novel Application of Cox Regression,” with lead researcher Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D.
  • Graduate — Bridget Mayer of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, “A Comparison of Sustained Release Tramadol and Buprenorphine as Analgesics in Rats,” with lead researcher Terry Blankenship-Paris, D.V.M.


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