Program Gives Students the Edge in Biomedical Research

Nebraska Wesleyan University junior Laura Blasnitz is pretty sure she won’t cure cancer. But she’s hoping her summer research experience will eventually lead to a career where her contributions are important.

“I don’t expect to cure anything in my lifetime,” said Blasnitz. “I only hope to make some kind of substantial contribution to humanity.”

Blasnitz is one of six Nebraska Wesleyan University students who are spending their summer in a lab. They are INBRE scholars who were selected for a two-year in-depth experience in biomedical research.

With support from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Research Resources, the INBRE project is designed to enhance the competitiveness of biomedical research in Nebraska.

Nebraska Wesleyan University is one of 11 undergraduate and three graduate institutions in the state to participate in the program. INBRE scholars receive research scholarships while they participate in the program. Nebraska Wesleyan was recently awarded $204,595 to for its current INBRE students and faculty to use toward research and presentations at national science conferences.

During their first year in INBRE, students conduct research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln or Creighton University Medical Center. They attend weekly workshops and continue their research for 10 hours a week during the academic year. In their second year, students research at their home universities.

Brasnitz is a new INBRE scholar. She is studying the Epstein-Barr virus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“INBRE is perfect for me to explore my options for my future career,” she said. “My career goal is to become a researcher and this experience is giving me my first taste of it.”

Terry McGinn, Assistant Professor of Biology, said the INBRE Program at NWU has significantly impacted the educational experiences for both students and faculty. Two INBRE scholars, for example, each co-authored scientific publications as undergraduates. Other scholars have been honored at national scientific meetings. And professors are able to pursue research through INBRE funding.

“We get to follow our dreams too and that directly impacts students,” McGinn said of faculty research.

Five NWU faculty are involved in the INBRE Program including McGinn, Angela McKinney-Williams, Jerry Bricker, Jeff Isaacson, and Garry Duncan.

While only six students are selected annually for the INBRE Program, McGinn said other Nebraska Wesleyan students benefit too. INBRE scholars share their research through poster presentations, and professors bring INBRE-funded science into the classroom and lab. For example, biology students perform cell culture experiments in a lab that wouldn’t exist without INBRE funding, said McGinn.

This summer Nebraska Wesleyan also received INBRE funding for summer science research experiences for college undergraduates as well as high school teachers and students.

Nebraska Wesleyan has participated in the INBRE Program since 2004. McGinn said the number of students applying to and attending graduate school is a result of the program’s success. Nebraska Wesleyan has consistently had a high percentage of students entering health professions, but in recent years NWU has experienced a five-fold increase in the number of science students attending graduate school, she said.

Junior Jake Oshlo is one of those students who plan to attend graduate school. He’s studying hemoglobin this summer at UNL.

“The experience I gain from working in the lab will be invaluable in the future,” said Oshlo. “It has opened me up to so many more paths that I could take for a career.”

Senior Ashley Urbach is in her second year of the program. This summer she is working with biology professor Angela McKinney-Williams on a bacterial communication system.

Urbach hopes her two years in the program will eventually lead to a career in neuroscience.

“My current career interests were formed after working at Creighton during my first year in INBRE,” she said. “Continued research during the school year for two years allows students to really get a grasp on doing research.”

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NWU biology student Allee Kuska works with Lincoln High School student Kellen Restau in a lab this summer thanks to INBRE funds.