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Catawba students spend their summer as interns at N.C. Research Campus

KANNAPOLIS — Catawba College student Bryan Morris of Concord says spending the summer as an intern in the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project at the N.C. Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis has “demystified what actually happens in research” for him.

Morris, a Noyce Scholar pursuing a biology major and a secondary education minor, plans a career as a teacher. “I’m going into education and there’s a big disconnect between education and research. I wanted to take this (internship) on so I can explain to my students how you get into the research field.”

“I didn’t realize so many schools and companies were here at the N.C. Research Campus,” Morris explains. “It’s great to see companies and schools coming together. The schools here aren’t against each other, they’re all working together on research to help everybody.”

The research conducted by Morris, along with Catawba students Ashley Wagoner of Roaring River and Jordan Hunt of Lexington, concerned blueberries. The three were on a team that made two different poster presentations about their findings at the July 27 research symposium that concluded the internships. A fourth student, Estefania Castro-Vazquez of N.C. State University, was also a member of the teams with the Catawba students.

One poster presented after their blueberry research was entitled “Identification of QTLs associated with consumer aesthetics and taste in Vaccinium corymbosum,” and the other was entitled “The Quantification and identification of QTLs associated with antioxidant Vaccinium corymbosum.” QTLs are qualitative traits loci.

“You get all of this data, but you have to quantify it and find out what it means,” explains Ashley Wagoner, a biochemistry major. “This was a great opportunity to not only see the PR side of it, but to also experience the professional aspects of the research.”

Catawba biology major Jordan Hunt, whose brother Titus Hunt was also a project intern, hopes to become a physician’s assistant after she earns her bachelor’s degree. She was thankful for the presentation experience she gained and shares that her biggest takeaway from the internship was “learning how to present to big groups of people.”

Hunt notes she would encourage other students to pursue similar internships. “It’s a great way to get hands-on experience and help you get a new perspective. You never know if you like it until you try.”

Cereal grains were the focus of research conducted by Catawba biology major Enrique Garcia of Salisbury. He collaborated with a student from N.C. State University, Charles Wagner, to present a poster entitled “Effect of cereal grain extracts and in vitro digests on angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) activity.” He comments that “working with experienced people allowed me to learn a lot and begin to get the scientific lingo down.”

Medical school is in Garcia’s future and this summer internship pushed him out of his comfort zone as he researched how cereal grains, in particular oats, impact gastrointestinal health.

Another medical school candidate, Catawba biology major Katlyn DeZego of Lexington focused her research efforts on broccoli, a vegetable she says she has always loved. She conducted research with Jessica Williams-Wilborn, a student at UNC Charlotte, and presented a poster entitled “Variation of glucosinolate profiles in broccoli is critical for its anticancer activity in human colon cancer cells.”

“You learn so much and get great opportunities to network,” says DeZego, who hopes to become a pediatrician with a focus on nutrition.

2016 Catawba graduate Holli Chandler of Lexington was a project intern last summer and her intern team actually took first place prize in the 2015 poster competition. She returned to the research campus this summer as a program ambassador and to work as a research technician before heading to pharmacy school at Auburn University this fall.

“They taught me the techniques and I’ve kept some research going this summer,” she explains. “Everyone here is like a family and I’m definitely going to stay in touch with these folks. I would tell other prospective interns not to sell themselves short. No matter what your background or where you come from! This has been such a blessing to me and has allowed me to make and keep up connections.”

This is the fourth year that Catawba College students have participated in the project’s research and their efforts have focused on blueberry, broccoli, oat and strawberry. Intern teams are guided by a lead researcher and a graduate mentor. At the end of their summer internship, each team presents a short synopsis of their research, they also work together to prepare scientific posters that are submitted into a poster competition judged by representatives from academic and industry partners of NCRC.

The project is a collaborative training and education program designed to advance research on key crops while preparing students for successful careers in science, technology, engineering and math fields. For more information, visit www.P2EP.org.



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