Students grow with research opportnities

After finishing his leftover spaghetti and a can of Coke, Jon Gilbert went to the freezer for four tubes of proteins.
He put them in an ice bucket and set them aside while he pulled on nylon gloves and lined up twenty-two tiny tubes in a rack resembling a miniature ice tray. This wasn’t part of a high-protein dessert ritual; lunch was over. Gilbert was back at work as a scientist, preparing for what’s known as a “gel shift.

The 20-year-old junior microbiology and molecular genetics major from Holliston, Mass., has been spending most of the summer in Dr. Nicholas Heintz’s lab looking for the places where a protein called RIP60 binds to DNA.

If Gilbert is successful, his work could help scientists understand cancer and other genetic diseases. But even if he is not successful, he will have gained the experience of running his own research project. Gilbert is one of nine undergraduates who conducted research in science and engineering this summer in internships administered by UVM’s HELiX (Hughes Endeavor for Life Science Excellence) Program. Many more students are doing research through SUGR/FAME, a UVM program created this year to encourage research collaborations between students and faculty.

Around campus, students are studying how diet affects heart disease; how mothers develop confidence in their parenting ability; which factors influence drug abuse and how they differ between rural and urban areas; and where, on a paramecium’s outer membrane, is the glutamate receptor.

Such projects delight President Judith Ramaley. “My hope,” Ramaley says, “is that every student at UVM will have the opportunity to participate in the generation of knowledge and understanding.” Students could accomplish this, she says, by “doing original research on campus or in a community or field setting” or “doing community-based and problem-focused projects, either as a part of the curriculum or as a community intern or volunteer.”

“In this way,” she says, “our students can experience the challenges and joys of scholarship and can learn more deeply through their direct participation in the creation, interpretation and application of knowledge to issues they care about.”

HELiX has been placing students in science and medical labs for more than eight years. HELiX administers Women in Science and Engineering internships, which require a student to work with a female researcher, and HELiX internships. The new UVM program, SUGR/FAME (Stimulate Undergraduate Research Experience with Faculty Mentoring), funded by the President’s Office, awarded a total of $95,933 for thirty-five research awards.

Working in a laboratory with a faculty member gives undergraduate students a reality check, says Judith VanHouten, HELiX director and Perkins Professor of Biology. Laboratory science is not appropriate for all students, and they should find out early whether they enjoy it, she notes. If they do, VanHouten says, the experience can teach students proper techniques and provide mentors for their university careers as they become the next generation of research scientists.

A Viking Voyage
John Abbott, coordinator of UVM’s outdoor programs, spent his second straight summer in the north Atlantic aboard the Snorri, a replica of an authentic Viking sailing ship. The Fall 1997 Vermont Quarterly reported on the Snorri’s unsuccessful attempt to cross the Davis Strait between Greenland and Canada. This year Abbott and his crewmates finished the job. They completed their voyage on Sept. 22, when the crew landed at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland. The following excerpt from Abbott’s journal appeared on the World Wide Web the day before the Snorri reached Baffin Island.

Aug. 8, nearing

Baffin Island
The sun is shining here on the Davis Strait and the “port” watch crew is scattered about on deck enjoying bright sun, dry time, and the reprieve from the biting winds and intermittent rains. We’ve had to change course a number of times due to fluky winds, and hopefully will take land on the Breevort Islands off the Hall Peninsula tomorrow sometime

The crossing for me has been an extraordinary, eye-opening experience and represents both a sharing of the wonder of discovery the Vikings must have enjoyed and the hardships they bore. The challenge of navigating the strait has really put the meaning of our experience and learning into perspective. While in fact we do have tons of modern safety and navigational aids onboard Snorri (telefax, single sideband, computer, GPS, etc. ad nauseam...) none of this knowledge of support erodes the fact that at this point we, like the Vikings, have little control over our destiny. We constantly work in amazement at the weather changes, wondering when we’ll see land (or if, in their case) and what the distant shores will look like when we arrive.

Last night we awoke for our watch at midnight, huddled bleary-eyed in our underway hovel. The sounds of the boat flexing and creaking, the swells slapping the hull then falling away, the wind whistling through shrouds, the chafing leather on the mast squeaking in unison with the rocking of the boat become oh-too-distant comforts of sleep.

The musty smell of the damp sleeping bags we’ve bravely decided to share with the opposite watch, escapes as we unzip the tent and allow the fresh air in (it’s been more than a week since we’ve had the chance to take the glacial bath). While it is darker now and we need light to steer and perform boatwork, we slide into the routine of donning the same (stinkingly familiar) clothes and the Mustang suits that have become our weatherproof homes while on deck.

This sanctuary creates an ethereal background for the ever-changing realities of wind and weather. We joked before nodding off again this morning that it seems wholly possible that we could emerge for our next shift and step onto a tropical, white sand beach in Tahiti — or even into my backyard in the lush green valley of Huntington, Vermont.I continually remind myself that the spectre of awe I’m discovering moment-to-moment, Leif Eriksson must’ve experienced on his first tour of Helluland, Markland, and Vinland: the green columns of the Northern Lights dancing in the darkness of the western skies, the full moon rising on the horizon offering a glimmering beam over dark waters as if to show the way, and behemoth icebergs appearing as islands in the distance, reflecting the purple hues of the setting sun.

We are all sharing the rarity of these sights across the reaches of time. I no longer feel that being a modern person in modern times with modern technology at our fingertips erodes what we’ve undertaken or the magic we’re extracting from our time here together. Whenever the commitment to venture into an environment where the outcomes are unknown and success lies in the process of learning and growth demanded by the journey, you are outward bound and you are an explorer.

Ramaley on the road in Vermont
For the second year in a row, UVM President Judith Ramaley is traveling her new home state. Though reminiscent of last year, when the then-new president traveled the state to get to know Vermont and to introduce herself to its residents, Ramaley packs a more pressing agendanow.

As a land-grant institution, UVM is mandated to serve the Vermont people. To Ramaley, that means making the university accessible, and so she is crisscrossing the state to find out what Vermonters are striving for and how UVM might support those efforts. At a June 2 lunch with community leaders in Rutland, she talked about three areas essential to a vibrant community: public schools, economic and community development, and the work force. Those three form a triangle, Ramaley said, and she sees UVM in the center.

Ramaley plans to visit and revisit Vermont communities. At each stop during this round of trips, which continues into November, she tries to visit a school, teach in a classroom or view a school-business partnership. She also aims to learn about community partnerships with UVM and to meet local economic-development groups, business leaders and media representatives

In Franklin County, as in many regions of the state, residents want to build a skilled work force, and attract and support businesses that offer high quality jobs. In Addison County, where more than a dozen farmers meet monthly to discuss the industry, to share information and to listen to industry experts, farmers urge UVM to get students excited about agriculture. In Windsor County, residents seek to train workers for high-tech jobs and to find opportunities for employees to earn advanced degrees.

In Rutland, Ramaley’s lunch companions discussed the need to attract employers who offer high quality jobs; the need to provide job training and options other than college; and the possibility of teaming up local hotels, UVM, and other schools to offer training in the hospitality industry.

Ramaley doesn’t claim to have quick-fix solutions or to know what’s best for the state. She knows what the university has to offer — research and development skills, experts in everything from agriculture to zoology and, of course, education — and this round of visits promises to better mesh the state’s needs with the university’s strengths.

Vermont hosts Hildegard conference
Medieval mystic and composer Hildegard of Bingen will be the focus of a November conference in Burlington, “The Greenest Branch: A Conference on the 900th Anniversary of the Birth of Hildegard of Bingen.” UVM, Saint Michael’s College, and Trinity College are working together to sponsor the event.

Scholars from around the world will gather to discuss Hildegard’s correspondence as a medieval woman of letters, her influence on liturgical music and practice, and her impact on science, medicine, and politics. Topics such as gender and identity in Hildegard’s work and her reception during her lifetime will also be covered, as well as her surprising rise in popularity in the late 20th century.

“Hildegard is recognized as a fascinating example of a woman struggling to embody and communicate an integrated vision of spiritual and material reality,” says UVM Associate Professor of Religion Anne Clark, one of the seminar organizers. “Her vision stands in contrast to a wide-spread perception that our own world is broken and dispersed.”

In addition to Clark, UVM faculty involved in the event include Jane Ambrose ’63, director of the Lane Series and chair of the Music Department; and Laurel Broughton ’75 G’82, lecturer in English. Shyla Nelson Foster ’91 is conference coordinator.

Knee-deep in Canada
David Massell, visiting assistant professor in the History Department, led a group of students on a UVM summer session class sponsored by the Canadian Studies Program, “Discovering Canada by Canoe.” The two-week course included four days of canoe training linked with evening sessions discussing student research projects exploring Canadian culture, history, and geography. Then the students headed north for the rivers and boreal forests of Quebec, where they visited timber operations and pulp mills that are at the heart of the area’s economy. And, of course, they paddled — seventy-five miles in all on the Mistassini River, says Massell. Students came out of the experience with a fresh perspective on history and contemporary issues facing this region, and they earned callouses firsthand, testimony to their unusual immersion in Canadian culture.

Future Alumna, Lydia Battey '99
When the fall semester began in late August, Lydia Battey may have been happy for the chance to sit in a classroom for a while. She’d just spent the week previous hiking the Long Trail from Jonesville to Stowe as co-leader of a UVM Trek new student orientation trip. Battey likely saw something of herself in the nine freshman in the group she led. It was just three years ago that Battey herself was in the same place — new to Vermont and new to UVM.

A senior in nursing, Battey’s undergraduate years have been an extraordinary balance of academic excellence and dedication to her duties as an ROTC cadet. Lt. Col. Hank Galbreath, former head of Military Studies at UVM, says, “Lydia is one of those students you feel privileged to teach. She’s not only one of the best students we had through ROTC, but I expect one of the best students at the university.”

Battey was attracted to UVM by the strength of the School of Nursing and the opportunity of an ROTC scholarship. She has made the most of both. This summer she spent four weeks training and working in a U.S. hospital in Germany, an intense experience made all the more memorable by work caring for victims of the terrorist bombings in Kenya. “The people were wonderful,” Battey says. “They had great spirits and were so encouraging of each other and supportive of me in my work.”

A member of the academic honorary Mortar Board, Battey will graduate next spring and be guaranteed a nursing job in the military, another attraction ROTC held for her. She hopes for an assignment in Korea or Germany.

Looking back on her years as an undergraduate, Battey says that ROTC training holds her fondest UVM memories — from airborne school (parachute training) to summer and winter mountain warfare schools. “It pushed me physically and mentally,” Battey says. “And the camaraderie you develop with fellow cadets is incredible.”

Noted & Quoted - UVM names and news in the national media
UVM research has continued to be in the news with the focus on The Vermont Back Research Center’s device dubbed “the virtual corset.” An NBC Nightly News crew is pictured taping Chris Janes, a Stowe landscaper who has benefited from the UVM research. The “corset” has also been featured in national magazines such as Smithsonian.