Summer of Opportunity

Students plug into research experiences at home and abroad
Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, legendary for flamingoes and other birds, will be home to OSU zoology student Shalynn Pack for eight weeks this summer. (Photo: iStockPhoto, Steffen Foerster)

Lake Nakuru National Park in Kenya, legendary for flamingoes and other birds, will be home to OSU zoology student Shalynn Pack for eight weeks this summer. (Photo: iStockPhoto, Steffen Foerster)

Ah, summer vacation. Time to kick back, right? Not so much for OSU students who are discovering opportunities to expand their horizons. They’re modeling blood flow, studying wildlife conservation in Africa, surveying Oregon’s old-growth forests and teaching entrepreneurship.

Here are a few of their stories.

In the Blood

Ishan Patel was more than pleased when he heard the news last spring. In fact, he says, “I was ecstatic.” The first-year student in bioengineering and the University Honors College had received a Johnson Scholarship to work in a research lab at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland this summer. His focus: an experimental model to simulate “pressure-driven bleeding.”

Patel grew up in Redmond, Oregon, where he Ishan Patelattended the International School of the Cascades, graduating as class valedictorian. Research was high on his list, and at OSU, he joined Christine Kelley’s lab in the School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. Under her guidance, he gained confidence in working with a genetically modified type of yeast that can be used in a process to produce biofuel.

At OHSU, Patel will work with Owen J. T. McCarty, an expert in cell transport in arteries. Medical researchers have had limited success in simulating arterial bleeding, says Patel. Working with a mechanical model system, he intends to “find ways to simulate arterial bleeding with clotting and then creating model curves for later use.”

Patel hopes to attend medical school and follow his love of research by finding ways to address cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Entrepreneur for Life

Alexa CareyWhen Alexa Carey was growing up in Gold Beach, Oregon, business talk was heard as often over dinner as “please pass the potatoes.” Her parents were “serial entrepreneurs,” she says, who sold sporting goods, photography equipment and flowers; managed the local JC Penney store; and operated a dry cleaning business. “My dad took maybe three days off a year,” she adds.

That entrepreneurial spirit is stitched into Carey’s DNA. The sophomore in business, speech communications and the University Honors College is helping to run Project Earth, which stands for entrepreneurship, art, rural sustainability, training and holistic support (“Yes, it’s a mouthful,” she says).

Carey and three Oregon friends – Laura Murdoch, Carol Hahn and Darryl Lai – created Project Earth in a late-night brainstorming session. Their dream: teach children “how to run a business, how to be successful, how to create a better standard of living for yourself and your family.” Students learn to make a marketable craft product and to create a “life vision map” of their long-term goals.

In May, Carey and the core Project Earth members took the program back to Gold Beach. “We taught 100 fifth-graders how to achieve their goals. We got crazy messy on the playground with hand painting. We taught them how to market themselves and businesses. Kids love it when you take an interest in them. It was spectacular.”

Carey has big plans for Project Earth. She’d like to take it to students in Brazil where a friend teaches school. This summer, she plans to stay a bit closer to home and do a workshop at the Oregon School for the Deaf in Salem (Carey can use American Sign Language). She will also serve as a project manager for the annual Young Entrepreneurs Business Week summer camp, July 19-25 at OSU.

Off to Kenya

ShalynnShalynn Pack likes a challenge. Right after graduating from Thurston High School in Marcola, Oregon, she bucked family loyalties when she decided to attend Oregon State University, even though her dad is “a huge Ducks fan.” She has traveled on her own in Spain and other parts of Europe. She has volunteered in veterinary hospitals and the Oregon Primate Rescue Center in Longview, Washington.

This summer, she will take her most ambitious journey yet. The junior in zoology will fly to Kenya where she will work at Lake Nakuru National Park, famous for a “pink sea of flamingoes lapping at its shores.” Surrounded by grasslands and situated between two volcanic craters, the lake is home to about 450 bird species. Working for the Kenyan Wildlife Service will bring Pack face to face with other exotic wildlife – white rhinos, tree-climbing lions, warthogs and baboons – and the threats they face from deforestation, pollution and encroaching development.

“Traveling in Europe and Spain, I knew what to expect. With Africa, what you hear in the media – the wars, that it’s really unstable – it’s hard to get over that. But everything I’ve read and people I’ve talked to say the people are really generous. And I’ll be living with a host family,” says Pack who dreams of a career in tropical wildlife conservation and community-based tourism.

After her eight-week internship, she will spend a week traveling before returning to Corvallis in time for classes in the fall. At OSU, Pack has studied molecular genetics in salamanders, served as a mentor in a science education program and volunteered for the Homeless Gardens Project.

Woods Walker

Andrew MerschelIt’s not a bad job if you hike or fish. Andrew Merschel does both. The senior in forestry and the University Honors College will pack his fishing pole and a personal pontoon boat this summer and head for the Pringle Falls Research Station on the Deschutes River south of Bend. When he’s not going after steelhead and salmon, he and fellow OSU forestry student Claire Rogan will be surveying forest plots.

Under guidance from Tom Spies, courtesy professor of forest ecology, and with support from the Deschutes National Forest, Merschel is pursuing an elusive goal: a useful definition of old-growth forest in country dominated by ponderosa pine, western juniper and mixed-conifer stands.

“The old-growth forests of the west side (of the Cascades) develop their complex structure and diversity over hundreds of years, and a lot of work has been done to understand how these forests develop,” says Merschel, “but the dry mixed-conifer forests of the east side aren’t as well understood. The different species and conditions there create a much different scenario for old-growth habitat.”

Merschel and Rogan will measure trees in 45 to 50 two-and-a-half acre plots in the Crooked River area and in the Ochoco Mountains east of Prineville. They’ll record species, measure tree height and diameter, drill cores and sample woody debris on the ground.

In addition to looking for patterns that can define old growth, they’ll use data from their surveys to evaluate the accuracy of forest maps created from satellite images. Their work will assist the Deschutes National Forest in revising management plans.

Merschel intends to graduate next winter and apply to graduate school.

Immune Defense

Beth DunfieldTo compete for a Goldwater Scholarship, you need a big idea. The award aims at nothing less than building the country’s future science and engineering talent pool. Beth Dunfield has ambitious goals for herself and a desire to help others, so she proposed to work on a cure for cancer. She wants to enable the body’s own immune system to recognize tumor cells and insert a therapeutic gene, killing the tumor.

If she succeeds, Dunfield may get a chance to put her ideas into practice. She plans to go to medical school and to focus on cancer or geriatrics. “I enjoy learning how the human body works. At night, I like to read books for fun on anatomy and physiology. It just really fascinates me,” she says.

This summer, the OSU senior in biophysics and biochemistry and the University Honors College will work in OSU Professor of Chemistry Vince Remcho’s microfluidics lab. For her honors thesis, she will develop a microchip-based laboratory device. This emerging technology is essentially a “lab on a chip” that enables scientists to conduct chemical reactions with control and sensitivity.

“I’ll design, fabricate and test a device for chemical and biological applications,” she says.

Dunfield’s work impressed the Goldwater Scholarship committee. In March, she learned that she was one of 278 students in the United States to receive the award which will pay up to $7,500 in tuition and fees. She credits Kevin Ahern, senior instructor and director of OSU’s HHMI (Howard Hughes Medical Institute) summer undergraduate research program with helping her through the process. “He’s been a great adviser. He really challenges students to push themselves,” she adds.

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