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Freshman Scholars Program Jumpstarts Careers in Research
Victoria Callison addresses her audience with a maturity that belies her young age. As her PowerPoint presentation begins, she speaks clearly about the herbicide atrazine and some of the concerns regarding its use – particularly its potential as a human carcinogen. The aim of her research, which uses gas chromatography, is to determine if saliva samples can be accurate indicators of atrazine exposure.
Students coming to Colorado State University for their freshman year are oftentimes overwhelmed by their new environment. They have to learn class schedules, how to maneuver around campus, get to know professors and teaching assistants, and for some, even how to do their laundry.
For five freshman entering undergraduate programs in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, including Victoria Callison, they also were challenged with having to learn their way around research laboratories as part of a new program launched this year by the Department.
The Freshman Scholars Program started in Fall 2004 with five participants. Students where chosen for the program based on their academic performance and personal essays indicating an interest in research. Participants in the program receive a $1,500 scholarship, are assigned a faculty mentor, and work in their mentor’s research laboratory.
“There wasn’t anything like this in the College when I started as department head, so I was really interested in getting a freshman scholars program up and running,” said Dr. John Zimbrick, head of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. “We’ve got a great group of kids now who came into the program really excited to be here and who are now working with their faculty mentors and graduate students on some very demanding research projects. It’s great for the students and great for the College as we work to bring forth the next generation of scientists.”
Dr. David Gilkey, an Assistant Professor in ERHS, is the faculty coordinator of the Freshman Scholars Program. At the beginning of the year, students rotated through a variety of laboratories and then selected which laboratory they wanted to work in. In addition to their laboratory work, the students meet once a week for a special seminar session. In December 2004, the students presented their projects to fellow students, faculty mentors and Dr. Zimbrick, showcasing their efforts from the fall semester.
This year’s Freshman Scholars Program students, and their projects and mentors, are: Victoria Callison, “Analytical Determination of Atrazine in Saliva,” Dr. John Tessari, Mentor; Michael Caipen, “Radiation Exposure and the Human Female,” Dr. Hatsumi Nagasawa, Mentor; Erin Davidson, “Deletion of PU.1 in Relation to Myeloid Leukemia,” Dr. Michael Weil, Mentor; Clayton Eims, “Human Fibroblast Cell DNA Repair Processes as a Function of Cellular Age,” Dr. Andrew Ray, Mentor; Kelly Sullivan, “Model of Parkinson’s Disease: Characterization and Causation of Expression of Key Inflammatory Gene, Inducible Nitric Oxide Synthase,” Dr. Ron Tjalkens, Mentor.
“So far, the pilot program for Freshman Scholars has proven to be very successful,” said Dr. Gilkey. “I think the students have been amazed by how much they have learned, and also the novel experiences they have had in the laboratories. Next year, with the on-going assistance of our wonderful faculty mentors, we hope to ramp up the program and fund a larger group of students.”