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CSTEP summer program offers students research experience

Undergraduates who took part in CSTEP's Summer Research Program gather for a group photo in front of Davis Hall. Photo: James Ulrich


Published August 7, 2014

“Research should be used to answer questions and refine solutions to problems.”
Austin Price, senior biological sciences major

Twenty UB undergraduate students from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines spent their summer conducting research with faculty members in their respective departments — and gaining an invaluable learning experience — as part of UB’s Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) Summer Research Program.

The eight-week program culminated last week with the eighth annual Summer Research Symposium and Luncheon. The capstone event included poster presentations from the students on their faculty-mentored research projects.

CSTEP at UB is a grant-funded program sponsored by the New York State Department of Education to support talented underrepresented students pursuing careers in the STEM fields, licensed professions and health-related professions. CSTEP offers key preparation, resources and opportunities critical to student success.

The CSTEP Summer Research Program aims to prepare students for the laboratory environment and serve as a catalyst for future endeavors. Students learn the importance of research and gain invaluable skills to use in education, the workforce and beyond.

The program also has served as a pipeline for students to enter graduate or professional school, according to CSTEP Director Shanna Crump-Owens.

For many students, research is an essential part of the undergraduate experience. For some, conducting research offers an opportunity to gain invaluable career experience. Others see it as a chance to gain recognition as innovators.

Leatrice Bennett, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, believes that conducting research “helps you become a better critical thinker and communicator.” Research, she says, is an avenue for students to learn valuable skills from professionals in academia.

Third-year psychology major Gabriella Jaramillo shares a similar view, noting her summer research experience “has given me a new perspective on higher levels of education and PhD-level work.”

Many students see research as a way to interact with knowledgeable professionals and catch a glimpse of the day-to-day workings of experts in their fields. Akunne Kanu, a junior pharmacology and toxicology major, says the experience offer students “an opportunity to bring awareness to themselves and the community about a particular problem and counteract it with innovative solutions.” Kanu says the summer program also showed her the importance of networking and learning the intricacies of professionalism and effective communication.

Robert Ferguson, a senior studying biological sciences, adds that taking part in research “opens us to new ideas and new career opportunities.” Ferguson’s summer research program focused on the “Modulation of Host Cell Lipid Metabolism Activity in Host Cells by Treponema denticola.”

In addition to the benefits of networking, many students see the research enterprise as the precursor of innovation. Research is “needed to continually improve our world, creating safer, more economical structures,” says civil, structural and environmental engineering student Suyeta Griffin, whose research project was titled “Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Bridge Information Modeling (BrIM) Systems.”

Warren Barrett, a senior chemistry major, hopes his research will “shed light on another protein that may be involved in breast cancer.”

“This could be a focal point that drug makers take into account when trying to cure estrogen receptor-related breast cancers,” Barrett says.

Austin Price also hopes to leave his mark on history. The senior biomedical sciences major is investigating methods of early detection of oral cancer by testing whether there is a correlation between degree of dysplasia and microvessel density in biopsy tissues. “Research should be used to answer questions and refine solutions to problems,” he says.

At the Summer Research Symposium, held on July 29 in the Newman Center on the North Campus, 16 distinguished UB faculty volunteers judged the students’ poster presentations. The students with the five highest-scoring presentations will receive an all-expense paid trip to present their research during the annual CSTEP Statewide Conference, sponsored by the CSTEP program at Syracuse University, being held during the spring 2015 semester at The Sagamore Resort on Lake George.

Local pre-collegiate students from UB’s STEP (Science and Technology Entry Program), BEAM (Buffalo-Area Engineering Awareness for Minorities) and Upward Bound programs also attended the symposium.