National Science Foundation grant offers summer research experiences at Earlham in neuroscience | Earlham College Skip to Content

National Science Foundation grant offers summer research experiences at Earlham in neuroscience

September 01, 2016

Earlham College is among four leading liberal arts institutions in Indiana and Ohio pioneering a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) in neuroscience.

The College is sharing in a three-year, $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to host this REU on campus during the summers of 2016, 2017 and 2018. Other participating institutions include the College of Wooster, Ohio Wesleyan University and Kenyon College.

“This may be the first time that a small college consortium REU has formed in any academic discipline,” Earlham Professor of Biology and Neuroscience Bob Rosenberg says. “It’s certainly the first time in neuroscience, and may be the first in any biological science.

“The REU experience that undergraduate students typically get at larger research institutions are very good, but sometimes they fall flat because personal attention isn’t always available to them,” he says. “That’s not the case here.”

Rosenberg and Beth Mechlin, assistant professor in psychology, will mentor students during the nine-week summer experiences. The Principal Investigators of this grant and the leaders of the consortium are Amy Jo Stavnezer (College of Wooster) and Jennifer Yates (Ohio Wesleyan University).

This summer, Earlham’s Sarah Murphy ’17 and Daisy Vargas of Smith College worked with Mechlin to research the relationship between low socioeconomic status and poor health with one study focusing on how debt influences stress.

“I was able to get a sense of what it's like to design, conduct and report a scientific and psychological study as well as learn how each of those things are done,” says Murphy, a neuroscience major who is interested in advancing research on Alzheimer’s Disease after graduation.

“I was also able to see what it's like to work with human subjects and what goes into designing a study like that,” she says. “I enjoyed the work as well as the people and I think I was also able to narrow my goals for my career.”

The grant awards participating students with a stipend of $4,725, as well as housing, meal, and travel allowances.

In future summers, up to four students (two from Earlham) will be selected to participate each year. Students who work with Rosenberg will advance his research on spinal cord regeneration of lamprey eels after spinal cord injury.

With 85 percent of the College’s faculty working collaboratively with students on and off campus, mentored undergraduate research is already one of the hallmarks of an Earlham education. Research associated with this REU, however, is about three weeks longer than the average summer experience currently available to students, Mechlin says.

Apart from the research, Murphy and Vargas attended a three-day research boot camp at Ohio Wesleyan attended by nine professors and 16 REU students. At Ohio State University, the students learned about graduate programs in neuroscience and how to apply to graduate schools. Events at Earlham and Kenyon exposed students to best practices in writing resumes and cover letters, and presenting at a conference, respectively. Also at Earlham, the students created a neuroscience exhibit for children at the Joseph Moore Museum.

“As you can see, students had some awesome opportunities beyond Earlham as a result of this REU,” Mechlin says. “The students who participated in the REU know more about neuroscience research in general and also now have a larger network of neuroscience faculty connections that they can tap into in the future.”

This REU is an example of Earlham's distinctive approach to a liberal arts education, which is exemplified by the Earlham Plan for Integrative Collaboration (EPIC), which helps students make purposeful connections between classroom learning and experiential opportunities like off-campus study, internships, research and student club leadership.

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Earlham College, a national liberal arts college located in Richmond, Indiana, is a "College That Changes Lives." We expect our students to be fully present: to think rigorously, value directness and genuineness, and actively seek insights from differing perspectives. The values we practice at Earlham are rooted in centuries of Quaker tradition, but they also constitute the ideal toolkit for contemporary success. Earlham is one of only 40 national liberal arts colleges ranked among U.S. News and World Reports' "Great Schools at a Great Price."

Brian Zimmerman is director of media relations at Earlham College. He can be reached at (765) 983-1256 and zimmebr@earlham.edu.

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