Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Mentoring On Campus Through Project REACH

Erica Golin, a Pyschology major in the Verrazano Class of 2015, has been working with Project REACH on campus this semester as part of an independent study course.  Read below for more about her experience, in her own words. 

Erica Golin
Hi! My name is Erica Golin and I’m a Verrazano sophomore studying psychology. I have had a very enriching experience this semester doing an independent study. My work is with Project REACH, a program at the College of Staten Island that provides mentorship to students who are on the autism spectrum or have other disabilities. This program is affiliated with the Center for Student Accessibility, which is an office on campus that provides services to students with disabilities.

I mentor three CSI students a week who are autistic or have another diagnosis. Autism is spectrum disorder, which means that it can range from very mild to very severe, and it is typically characterized by difficulty in social situations, impairment in communication, and a restricted pattern of behavior and interests. When I meet with my students, we discuss goals for the semester and how to reach those goals, such as getting better grades and increasing social skills. What I have learned so far from this opportunity is that autism is considered an “invisible disability,” meaning that you cannot just look at a person and tell they have it. People with invisible disabilities are often misunderstood because not everyone understands the implications of the disorders. Another part of my independent study is using Microsoft Excel to track data, which has taught me that data entry and paperwork are essential parts of psychology because information needs to be accounted for and analyzed in order to improve the human condition.

I feel honored to be a mentor, and I know that I am making a difference in the lives of my mentees. It is amazing how kind-hearted and determined people with disabilities are, and as a psychology student, I strive to better understand all people. I plan on continuing my work with Project REACH for the rest of my college career.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Undergraduate Research Opens Doors To New Opportunities

Joseph Inigo, a Biochemistry major in the Verrazano Class of 2013, has been conducting neuroscience research with Dr. Banarjee since 2009.  Joseph has co-authored and published two scientific papers, one for the Journal of Neurochemistry and the other for the International Journal of Cancer.  He presented his research at several conferences, and in 2012 he led members of the American Chemical Society club to the Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting at the University of Maryland.    He has served as Treasurer and President of the American Chemical Society on campus.  Below, Joseph shares what he has learned through participation in undergraduate research.

Looking back on my years as an undergraduate student, I can honestly say that the defining moment of my college career occurred when I first stepped into a laboratory at the College of Staten Island. For a while, I had been hearing about all the different types of research that was taking place right on campus, and as someone still striving to find my niche, I decided I wanted to try my hand at this. However, the beginning was the most daunting. I had no idea where to start or whom to speak with. 

Joseph in the lab.
But soon after, I heard about Dr. Probal Banerjee’s neuroscience research lab and several of his projects. I found his areas of interest to be fascinating and simply had to meet with him and inquire about his lab. I was lucky enough to discover that there was a position just waiting to be filled. There was a project involving the study of clozapine, an antipsychotic often used to treat schizophrenia. This project had been put on hold and needed someone to take over. So slowly yet surely, I learned my way around the lab and picked up various techniques to help outline the mechanism of clozapine-evoked electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex and show involvement of the serotonin 1A receptor in this signaling activity. Later on, I moved to a project involving curcumin, investigating its prospect in eliminating brain tumors such as those formed by melanoma and glioblastoma cells.

During my involvement in these projects, I have been able to both increase my knowledge in the sciences and also learn the technical aspects of hands-on research. It has been a treat to apply techniques that previously I had only been reading about in textbooks. And it has been quite the experience to work with animals and various cell lines. With the opportunity to thrive in this learning environment, I have been able to lay the groundwork for establishing myself as a scientist. What began as simple curiosity slowly developed into a true passion for discovering answers which can only be uncovered by scientific experimentation.

One facet of research that I did not expect involved the presenting of our findings at various conferences. This allowed me a platform to exercise my ability to speak in front of an audience and present my work. One of the highlights included my participation with the American Chemical Society chapter at CSI. We attended the 43rd ACS Middle Atlantic Regional meeting at the University of Maryland and during the course of three days, we met fellow researchers from various states and were presented with the latest information at the forefront of chemistry research. We were able to stay at the university’s dorms, free of charge, which even included a meal plan.

Joseph and peers at the American Chemical Society Middle Atlantic Regional Meeting.
Besides the research portion, one of my favorite aspects about working in a lab is having the support of a cast of colleagues who are with me every step of the way, kindly sharing their experiences and expert knowledge. It has come to the point where I can consider them an extension of my family. And I still find it unbelievable how many friends I have met through research. This coming summer, I am thrilled to be able to participate in a neuroscience research program in the Netherlands at Maastricht University. It goes to show that if you are willing to leave your comfort zone and put yourself out there to try new experiences, you will never know who you will meet or what opportunities you will find. So please, if you have even the slightest interest in research, I highly encourage you to give it a try and shoot me an email at joseph.inigo@gmail.com if you are unsure of where to begin!

Joseph will be speaking at an Undergraduate Science Research VELA on Tuesday, April 30th at 2:30 in 5N-112.  If you'd like to attend this workshop and learn more from fellow Verrazano students about how to get involved in undergraduate science and psychology research, please RSVP to the Verrazano office at 718-982-4171.