2015 Summer Neuroscience Undergraduate Research Fellows

Rosa Cirelli

Mentor: Dr. Pierre- Pascal Lenck-Santini
College/University: University of Vermont
Hometown: Schenectady, NY

"My interests fall within the realm of psychiatric disorders and their treatments. As a result, my goal has always been to become a psychiatrist. Neuroscience provides me a consistently intriguing base on which to build myself toward that goal. There’s never a dull moment. Through the SNURF program I’ve gained a number of necessary lab skills, and practiced ones that I had learned basics of in introductory biology courses. I ran behavioral tasks on rats, performed electrode implantation surgery, and perfused the animals at the end of the experiment. I was initially hesitant about the idea of doing research, as it has never been my career goal to go into that field. This program, however, has opened my eyes to how appealing research can be. Participating in each step of the study, troubleshooting problems that may arise, all of these things were exceptional experiences. As well as all of this, I was provided the opportunity to shadow a clinician during his daily patient care. Through him, I gained more extensive knowledge of how outpatient care works, as well as how doctors often function within the whole of a hospital. 

"As I am now entering my senior year, I will be applying to medical school in the near future. So, while my plan is not to become a researcher, I feel as though the SNURF program has given me a scientific background that I could not have gotten anyplace else. Beyond this, I was able to take advantage of shadowing resources that I may not have been able to easily gain access to otherwise. Overall, this program was a stupendous experience. Not only did I learn a truly mid-boggling amount, but the group of SNURF students was a welcoming and accepting community. We learned from each other, as well as from our mentors. 

Madonna Enwe

Mentor: Dr. Rodney Scott
College/University: Dickinson College
Hometown: Washington, DC


"Before the SNURF program, I did a literature research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its impact on the juvenile brain and I got the opportunity to present it at two collegiate conferences in Maryland and New York. After each of these conferences, people came up to me to tell me about their loved ones who have suffered from TBI and some mothers even asked me what I thought about the contact sports their children played. Through these experiences, I learned that the study of the brain was a relatively untapped field that is of relevance to many people.

"This summer, I learned more about the research environment and how important it is to communicate with the members of your lab and also reading previous research on your project. I learned how to perfuse an animal, stain tissue, imaging and counting using topnotch techniques such as the stereo Investigator. I received a lot of help from the graduate students and post docs in my lab and I am very grateful for that. My mentor is a pediatric neurologist, and I was interested in how he integrated his research with his clinical work. Also, learning about epilepsy and how common epileptic seizures are influenced my career goals. I plan to apply to medical school after I graduate and maybe specialize in the field of pediatric neurology."

Harrisonford Fauni

Mentor: Dr. Felix Eckenstein
College/University: Macalester College
Hometown: Lakewood, CA

"Neuroscience caught my attention when I read an article claiming that it was the “Last Frontier of the 21st Century.” I wondered why neuroscience would be considered as the new Wild West in the science field because there are still new ideas being explored in the field of physics, chemistry, and biology. As I read more things about neuroscience, I realized that the brain is complex, unique, and barely understood. How can someone explain consciousness arising from neuronal connections? Descartes believed in dualism. Where do we find the intersection between the mind and the body? Is it true that the mind is separate from the body? If not, can we biologically and scientifically determine the mind? Those are some of the questions that I have easily discovered during my contemplations about life and in trying to understand varying human behaviors and perceptions. Throughout the years, I have developed an intimate relationship with neuroscience because it is so applicable in daily life situations and have found myself trying to shed some light in the dark parking lot and venturing into some new intricate, scientific territories. Neuroscience is vast and interdisciplinary, and I just find myself continuously challenged and encouraged to expand my horizons. The SNURF program further strengthened my passion in neuroscience by enabling me to have a more hands-on approach in learning about transgenes and antibody staining.

"I have learned and practiced valuable techniques such as using the confocal microscopy, immunostaining, and properly imaging different brain sections. During my time in the SNURF Program, I have understood science’s emphasis on collaboration through the intersection of my project with other projects. It was an amazing experience helping MBF Bioscience in creating an accurate, automated stereology to streamline cell counting. Through the SNURF Program, I have gained new insights about the inner workings of a biomedical company such as fostering new scientific ideas that could improve the lives of other people while maintaining research objectives. I plan to enter graduate school and obtain a PhD degree in the future. The SNURF Program along with the guidance of my mentor has allowed me to feel more prepared and more reassured in pursuing my passion in neuroscience."

Julio Francisco

Mentor: Dr. Eugene Delay
College/University: Florida Institute of Technology 
Hometown: West Palm Beach Florida

"My interest is in neurodegeneration, neurogenesis, and neural plasticity. Although we know much on how the nerve cells arise, change connection, and die, there is significantly more that remains unknown. I am planning to pursue a career is studying the molecular and cellular base of neurodegeneration, neurogenesis, and neural plasticity. After graduating from my home school, Florida Institute of Technology, I plan to enroll at New York University and hope to research Alzheimer's disease. 

"This past summer, I had the privilege of researching taste transduction, one of many topics in neuroscience. I learned a lot about the aspect of taste. This included the development of taste buds and the genetic base of tongue development. In addition, I learned techniques--such as perfusion, immunohistochemistry, and imaging—not often taught in class. The SNURF program has provided an enriching and breathtaking experience. Even though the program has come to an end, I feel that I made an ever-lasting connection with the other SNURFs and I am excited to continue to pursue the study of neuroscience."

Jorge Gonzalez

Mentor: Dr. George Wellman
College/University: University of Miami
Hometown: Miami, FL

'As a scientist, I am intrigued and excited by nature’s most perplexing questions, and Neuroscience is a field that approaches the most enigmatic of topics: our Brains. Containing our memories, experiences, personalities, hopes, and aspirations, the wrinkled orb inside our skulls is a complex network of billions of intricate synapses. Its mind blowing to imagine that all that I am, all of recorded history, even all of science, is a product of the miracles the human brain can accomplish. It’s a privilege really to be able to contribute to the field that is divulging new knowledge every day about the bit of magic that happens inside our heads. I applied to the SNURF program because I hoped to partake in some of this groundbreaking Neuroscience research, but I found that my expectations were exceeded beyond words.

"I can say with the utmost sincerity that being a part of the SNURF program has been the most fulfilling experience of my undergraduate career. As a part of George Wellman’s lab in the Medical School, I explored the implications of a receptor on the physiology of cerebral blood flow. Coming in, I considered the cellular and molecular aspects of biology to be one of my weakest areas. After engaging in dissection, precision experimentation, and hours of literature enrichment, I have come to find the miraculous interactions between organic chemistry, molecular biology, and even physics, through pharmacology applications. Apart from the productive lab hours, I enjoyed attending lectures on topics ranging from Behavioral Neuroscience and Neuro-imaging, to Medical School and Graduate School applications.

"Under the physician mentorship of Dr. Mark Gorman, I also participated in dozens of hours of thought-provoking shadowing in the UVM Medical Center’s neurology department. I interacted with patients, medical students, resident physicians, and medical professionals on levels that reasserted my future goal of becoming a doctor. I was enthralled by acute neurological diagnostic discourse, successful patient treatment, and the grateful family members who thanked the team for taking care of their loved ones.

"The combination of these experiences has shifted my trajectory from medical school to the pursuit of a joint MD/PhD degree. It is my dream to uncover knowledge about the brain, as a future physician scientist, that may ultimately contribute to an advance in clinical neurology. After my undergraduate time is up, I will apply to various MD/PhD programs in neuroscience across the country, inspired to be the best version of myself I can be, a SNURF."

Jessica Landrum

Mentor: Dr. Felix Eckenstein
College/University: Alabama State University
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

"I'm interested in neuroscience because it is a very broad field and there are many opportunities to uncover the mysteries of our greatest organ, the brain. In the SNURF program, I've gained valuable tools that will follow me on the pursuit of my goals. I've learned a variety of things like preparing brain sections and statistically analyzing data. The skill set I've acquired in the SNURF program has influenced my decision of obtaining an MD/PhD, with the PhD being in neurobiology. This program provided me with a lot of insights and experience in the realm of academic and medical research that any person would be grateful for. The SNURF program is all around a great program."

Abagael Lasseigne

Mentor: Dr. Alicia Ebert
College/University: University of Vermont
Hometown: Wheelock, VT

"I grew up watching shows like Nova and Scientific American Frontier, so I’ve always had a passion for science.  Neuroscience, however, has become what I’m most interested in.  I am fascinated by the brain’s complexity and mystery, and I want to help decipher why humans do the things they do.  The fact that everything humans do, and have ever done, started by electrical and chemical signaling between neurons in the brain just astounds me and drives my desire to learn more.

"Working in the Ebert lab, I learned and performed numerous laboratory techniques including immunohistochemistry, microinjections, and in situ hybridization. I also learned about zebrafish husbandry and how to utilize zebrafish in the field of neuroscience.  In addition, the lab team I worked with allowed me to problem solve during the course of my experiment, and I was always able to ask questions.  This allowed me to feel fully involved and highly knowledgeable about my project despite it only being a 10 week program.  Outside of the lab, the SNURF program also allowed me to hear great lectures, acquire helpful career advice, and meet many great people with similar interests to myself. I am planning to go to graduate school in the Fall of 2016 to study Neuroscience.  This program has greatly influenced my interests and has shifted my focus from being more psychology-related to being more biology-related.  Overall, the SNURF program was a very fun, enjoyable, and informative experience!"

Jocelyn Newman

Mentor: Dr. Julie Dumas
College/University: The University of Alabama
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee

"I think neuroscience surpasses the standard academic handling of a subject because it is inherent in every single human. What makes neuroscience so fascinating to me is that the study of an organ comprised of fatty acids and water controls our consciousness, emotions, and behavior.  Every hope or dream we’ve ever had is handled by electrical impulses reaching a destination. I like to think of brain studies as analogous to an explorer on an exotic archipelago. Plants and wildlife are indigenous to certain parts of the islands much like specific cognitive functions are exclusive to certain parts of the brain.

"The merits of studying neuroscience are numerous. This summer I was able to work with Dr. Julie Dumas in the psychiatry department. We examined cerebral blood flow patterns in two groups of women who had undergone either chemotherapy or radiation treatment for breast cancer. I really enjoyed gaining experience in brain imaging software. Observing fMRI studies and analyzing results through Matlab and Spatial Parametric Mapping was an entirely different, yet rewarding, experience for me. Aside from academic knowledge, I was able to experience a summer in the gorgeous state of Vermont.

"I’m in the process of applying to medical school. SNURF has been instrumental in providing me with additional insight into the admissions process, lectures from passionate researchers, and opportunities to delve into one of my favorite subjects."

Jessica Silva

Mentor: Dr. William Falls
College/University: Hartnell College
Hometown: King City, California

"I became really interested in neuroscience when I began meditating and noticed my perspectives were different and normal events became something that felt seemingly brand new. I ventured into books about many facets of the brain and consciousness and I find that there's not much else that could be any more relevant to me and what I'd like to spend my time with.

"During my time spent in the program, I gained insight from goals and ideas being held up to their claims through the process of experimental design. I found this the most useful for my future endeavors. I learned about involving yourself in your research questions and communicating your ideas with others has a great deal of importance on your research goals as a scientist. I was privileged to work in a lab that involved my research interests; The Falls' lab impacted my thought processes on experimental design and I can undoubtedly adhere to the usefulness of it.

"SNURF gave me the experience of what being a full-time scientist might hold. This was very influential to me to find a suiting lab and a suiting graduate university so that my attention goes towards my goals as a scientist and, in the future, to pursue and conduct a lab of my own. I plan to obtain my Ph.D. and I am interested in mindfulness and the treatment of depression and fear disorders. I am very thankful to have been a part of SNURF 2015."

Alexa Soares

Mentor: Dr. Felix Eckenstein
College/University: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Hometown: Winchester, MA

"I am interested in neuroscience because I think it combines a lot of different scientific fields into one cohesive field of study, but there are also so many different career paths you can choose from. I gained a lot of bench work experience. My background was in psychological research, so I primarily did fieldwork and I had very little experience with working in an actual wet lab. This program allowed me to become familiar with several different lab techniques and procedures. Apart from the lab experience I also had to opportunity to shadow a doctor and we got to meet a lot of the faculty from the neurological sciences department as well. Plus, I got to live and spend time with some really great people who were in the same program and shared the same interests as I did.

"I am planning on going to medical school in the future. I think I had known for a while that I wanted to become a doctor, but the SNURF program definitely made me sure that that is what I wanted. When I got to shadow I got to see firsthand what a day in the life of a doctor was like and it made me realize that this is what I wanted to spend my life doing. If you have the opportunity to participate in the SNURF program do it. It is unique and unlike any other research internship out there. You have amazing mentors who are also kind and great at teaching, so you can learn freely without being afraid to make mistakes or ask questions. It really is one of the best ways to spend your summer."

John Treffalls

Mentors: Drs. Jom Hammack and Mark Bouton
College/University: Texas State University
Hometown: Houston, TX

"Neuroscience is the only thing that I know will keep me interested my entire life. I think the brain is the last frontier and the idea of a creature studying itself in such deep and meaningful ways gives me a feeling of satisfaction that nothing can compare to. Over the course of the summer, I assisted in one and ran two of my own behavioral experiments to study stress induced drug relapse. In doing so, I performed 25+ stereotaxic bilateral BNST cannulations and at least 10 perfusions in rats. In addition, I improved my writing and publication comprehension tremendously. I plan on pursuing a dual MD/PhD degree in neuroscience and most likely ophthalmology; I want to design and study retinal implants in humans. This summer in Burlington has been the most profound and impactful experience of my life. The people I’ve met and the memories I’ve made here are extremely special to me, and I feel very fortunate to have been a part of it all."

Ellen Wixted

Mentors: Dr. Gregory Holmes
College/University: University of Vermont
Hometown: Homer, New York

"I became interested in neuroscience because it is always striving to answer the question “why”. The brain does so many different things, and if you look long enough (and have the technology to help), you can find mechanisms and pathways that are the underlying bases for everything we do. More often than not, you can’t answer your original question, but no matter what you set out to find, whatever you do see is always exciting.

"My specific interests include learning and memory, especially academic learning, and how different disabilities and disorders can affect those processes. I am most interested in ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s Disease, epilepsy, and anxiety disorders and how compensatory networks for learning are developed.

"The SNURF program has given me so many experiences in research that I would never have gotten the chance to do before graduate school, which (I hope) will make that transition a little less daunting when it comes. With only one year of undergraduate school left, I cannot be more grateful for all of the friendships made and experiences I have had. I’ve learned more this summer than I have ever learned in any previous summer. The SNURFs, lab techs, graduate students, postdocs, and doctors I met have helped me develop my research skills, professionalism, confidence, and general love of research in neuroscience. They ensured in me that this is the field in which I want to be, and I am more excited than ever to move forward towards graduate programs and research positions after this year."

Back to Top >>