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Researchers of the Month
Here are some of the graduating seniors we will miss. ...We wish them all well with their future endeavors and pursuits!

May 2013 

Ista Egbeto Biology major Research Mentor: Dr. Robert Haltiwanger, Biochemistry & Cell Biology 

Renee Hartig Biology major Research Mentor: Dr. Mary Frame, Biomedical Engineering; Dr. Hoi-Chung Leung, Psychology 

Rachel Jaffe English & Environmental Humanities majors Research Mentor: Dr. Peter Manning & Dr. Bente Videbaek, EnglishDr. Ayesha Ramachandran (consultant), English 

Samuel Katz Biochemistry major Research Mentor: Dr. B. Moore, Univ. of Michigan Scholarship Advisor: Efie Spentzos, Fulbright Program Advisor 

James Lennon Biomedical Engineering major Research Mentor: Dr. Clinton Rubin Biomedical Engineering

Roy Lotz Anthropology major Research Mentor: Dr. David Gilmore, Anthropology

Sidra Mahfooz 
Political Science & Psychology majors Research Mentor: Dr. Robert Alessi, Political Science Scholarship Advisor: Efie Spentzos, Boren Scholarship Advisor 

Kunal Mandavawala 
Biology major Research Mentor: Dr. Howard Sirotkin, Neurobiology

Jon McGinn Biochemistry major Research Mentor: Dr. Greg Hannon, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Virginia Mulé Anthropology & Biology majors Research Mentors: Dr. Diane Doran-Sheehy, Dr. Andreas Koenig, & Dr. Clary Scarry, Anthropology

IstaEgbetoIsta Ariane Egbeto
 is an international student from Togo, West Africa and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Business Management. Ista previously attended Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland where she worked as a lab assistant in the Biology department. In fall 2012, after transferring to SBU, Ista joined Dr. Robert S. Haltiwanger’s Lab in the Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology. Ista presented her project on the "Glycosylation of EGF repeats 12 and 13 in Drosophila Notch" at the recent 2013 URECA campus wide research poster symposium, and is currently finishing up writing her Biology honors thesis on the topic. Ista has been involved as a USG P.A.S.S. Program tutor, a TA with the Department of for AMS 110, a Peer Educator in the Diversity Peer Educator Program, and serves as Secretary for Oxfam at SBU. With a 4.0 GPA, Ista is a candidate for the 2013 H. Lee Dennison valedictorian award for transfer students. Ista plans to apply to medical school programs in one year's time.

Renee HartigRenee Hartig is a Biology major and Journalism minor with a specialization in neuroscience. She will be continuing her education at the graduate level (pursuing a combined MSc/PhD) in Europe at the International Max Planck Research Institute in Tübingen Germany. Renee has participated in the URECA symposium for the past two years, and has presented her work on cannulation studies for endothelial dysfunction models in the lab of Dr. Mary Frame (Biomedical Engineering); and also her honor's thesis project on proactive interference and spatial working memory processing in the cognitive neuroscience lab of Dr. Hoi-Chung Leung (Psychology). Renee recently attended NEURON (Regional Neuroscience Research Conference), and presented a research project on microcirculatory networks with Dr. Frame at the national Experimental Biology Conference in Boston. Renee has served as President of The Neuroscience Axis, and has coordinated outreach learning programs for local community students as a partnership project with the Dana Foundation for Brain Awareness Week 2013. Renee has been the recipient of the STEM Scholarship as well as the URECA travel grant to present research off-campus. 


RachelJaffeRachel Jaffe is a member of the Honors College, with an English Honors and Environmental Humanities double major. Rachel plans to begin graduate studies for Urban Planning and Information Systems in the fall. In her sophomore year, Rachel conducted research for Dr. Pittinsky’s research on allophilia and edited his book “Us + Them.” For her senior honors thesis, Rachel has written an interactive, place-sensitive dystopian story based off of Stony Brook’s fifty-year plan “Project Fifty Forward” entitled “Fifty Forward." To read more, see: Her goal in writing this story is to make students think about how emerging technologies will influence their lives, and to become more active in shaping the future of Stony Brook University. Rachel has received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, and the Director’s Award for Excellence in the study of Environmental Humanities. 

SamKatzSamuel Katz is a Biochemistry major at Stony Brook, recently awarded a 2013 Fulbright Scholarship. He will be going to Germany this fall to conduct research on direct cellular reprogramming at the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology. Samuel first started working as a research assistant at the Abrams Lab at SUNY Downstate Medical Center while he was completing his GED. Beginning his freshman year at Stony Brook in summer of 2010, Sam worked for a time in the Ma Lab at in the Department of Pathology. He also became a contributing writer for The Stony Brook Press where he wrote about topics such as: the science behind the claims made by muscleboosting beverages, the truths and myths about the H1N1 vaccine, and the risks and neuroscience behind student abuse of Adderall and other cognitive enhancers (Methamphetamine). Samuel got involved in the production of the play QED, a play about scientist Richard P. Feynman that was performed at the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics in March 2012: he designed the scientific equations of the blackboards on the set, and worked with the actors to provide the scientific background/context behind the dialogue of the play. In summer 2012, Sam participated in a SURP program at the University of Michigan where he did research under the mentorship of Dr. Bethany Moore in the Department of Immunology on studying the lung’s ability to clear bacterial infections after receiving a Bone Marrow Transplant—work that has recently been published in theJournal of Immunology. Samuel plans to apply to Ph.D. programs after returning to the US after completing his Fulbright Scholarship year.


James LennonJames Lennon is a Biomedical Engineering major who has worked in Dr. Clinton Rubin’s laboratory since fall 2010 (when he transferred to SB) — on studying the effects of radiation exposure on bone marrow health. James was awarded the NYSTEM Fellowship to support his research in Dr. Rubin’s lab in summer 2011. In summer 2012, he received the Amgen Scholars Fellowship to conduct research at Stanford University, where he studied whether stem cells from fat tissue could be used to regrow skin following injury, in the laboratory of Dr. Geoffrey Gurtner. James has presented his research at the 2012 and 2013 BMES Annual Conferences, and the 2013 ABRCMS Conference. He has also received the 2013 Provost Award for Academic Excellence, and was one of two Stony Brook undergraduates selected this year as a recipient of the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship award. James will be entering a graduate /Ph.D program next fall at Stanford University to study Stem Cell Biology—investigating neural stem cell dysfunction and its role in certain brain cancers. In the long-term, he hopes to bridge the gap between stem cell research discoveries and the clinical treatment of neurological diseases.


RoyLotzRoy Lotz is a member of the University Scholars Program, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in
Music. Early on in his studies at Stony Brook, a DEC class got him intrigued in the subject of anthropology, and has remained a passion since. In his sophomore year, Roy took a reading course in which he did independent research on oral-formulaic theory, a theory that seeks to explain how individuals can improvise Odyssey-length poems from memory alone. After that, Roy studied abroad in East Africa twice: the first time in the Turkana Basin Institute (fall 2011) in northwestern Kenya, and the second time in Tanzania (summer 2012). In Turkana, Roy learned much about paleontological and archaeological research methods, and gained invaluable experience working with the Leakeys and other leading researchers. In Tanzania, he learned more about the people and culture of East Africa, an experience that included learning some Swahili. The experience left him with a deep interest in the region, which led Roy to complete an honors thesis on the music of Tanzania, and how music has interacted with the state and the economy. Roy currently works in the Center for Survey Research, where he interviews people over the phone for studies ranging from health to political opinion. Roy will be attending the CUNY Graduate Center in the fall for a Ph.D. program in ethnomusicology.


SidraMahfoozSidra Mahfooz is a senior majoring in political science and psychology, and will be going to study Arabic in Egypt next year as a 2013 National Boren Scholarship recipient.  At the American University in Cairo, she will be conducting an ongoing comparative analysis between US and Egypt’s constitutional liberties. Sidra was the president of the Pre Law Society and a co-founder and Captain of the Mock Trial Team. Working under attorney coach Vincent Amicizia, the team conducted research and trial preparations for a different case each year to compete at regional tournaments; in just three years, the team received a bid to compete at nationals. Sidra recently received the first place award in the 2013 SUNY-wide Benjamin and David Scharps legal essay contest, in which she argued for a heightened duty of care in intercollegiate athletics based upon the mutually dependent “special” relationship between an athlete and a college institution, and an advancement in concussion awareness. She presented this project, conducted under the guidance of Vincent Amicizia, at the 2013 URECA symposium. For her honors thesis, conducted under the mentorship of Professor Robert Alessi of the Political Science department, Sidra evaluates the legality and ethics of targeted killings and drone warfare, based upon both international law and US constitutionality. Sidra has also served as a Teaching Assistant to Professor Frank Myers for Intro to Comparative Politics and Professor Marci Lobel’s class on Psychology of Women’s Health. Sidra hopes to continue her research when pursuing her JD at Law School after the year abroad.


KunalMandavawalaKunal Mandavawala is an Honors College student majoring in biology witha minor in business management. Kunal began research in Dr. Howard Sirotkin’s lab in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior in the second semester of his freshman year. His project deals with elucidating the function of the Churchill gene using engineered proteins called zinc finger nucleases. This project was recently accepted for publication into the peer-reviewed journal, Developmental Dynamics. Kunal's research was funded by the URECA summer fellowship in 2010. He has presented at the URECA Celebration for three years (2011-2013). Kunal is also a volunteer emergency medical technician for Brentwood Legion Ambulance, and has served as a Teaching Assistant for Cellular and Organ Physiology. He plans to pursue a medical degree.


JonMcGinnJon McGinn is a member of the University Scholars Program majoring in Biochemistry, and has worked in Dr. Gregory Hannon’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory since April of his sophomore year. His research focused on the piRNA pathway, which is an RNA-based immune system that ensures genomic stability in the reproductive tissues of all animals. This research has culminated in a paper, on which he is one of four authors, which has been published in Molecular Cell. His work has been supported by the URECA Summer Program (2012), and he has presented a poster entitled “A transcriptome-wide RNAi screen in the Drosophila ovary reveals novel factors of the germline piRNA pathway” at the 2013 URECA Research Celebration. With his graduate student mentor in the Hannon Lab, Jon has also co-authored a textbook chapter entitled “Small RNA library construction for high-throughput sequencing,” which will be published in PIWI-interacting RNAs: Methods and Protocols (edited by Mikiko Siomi) later this year. Jon’s research accomplishments have been recognized with two Research Achievement Awards from the University Scholars program, an Undergraduate Recognition Award for Academic Excellence, and a Provost’s Award for Academic Excellence. Jon will be pursuing a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences at The Rockefeller University starting in July.


VirginiaMuleVirginia Mulé is a member of the the Honors College and has a dual major in Biology and Anthropology. Ginny, as most know her, grew up in Smithtown, New York, and has always been interested in science, especially biology. Her first major research experience was a 4-week primate behavior field course in Costa Rica through the Danta Foundation for Conservation of the Tropics during the summer of 2011. During the final weeks of the course, she completed a preliminary study of habitat use by critically endangered Central American Squirrel Monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii). She and her research partners presented this, with guidance from their course instructor, Kimberly Dingess, at the Midwestern Primate Interest Group meeting in October 2011. In the Spring of 2012, she enrolled in a graduate course in primate behavior taught by Dr. Andreas Koenig, the culmination of which was a research paper using data collected by Dr. Clara Scarry (then a PhD candidate in the Interdepartmental Program in Anthropological Sciences). Ginny presented this project, "Predictors of Vigilance in Tufted Capuchin Monkeys" at the URECA celebration (2012, 2013) and received a URECA travel grant to support her presentation at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists' annual meeting (April 2013). Ginny is currently finishing up her honors thesis with Dr. Diane Doran-Sheehy, a review paper on the impact of Ebola on great apes, and will graduate with honors in Anthropology. She was also a recipient of the 2013 Provost's Award for Academic Excellence. In August, she will begin the next chapter of her education at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine. From there, she hopes to pursue a career in conservation medicine and research, with a special interest in infectious diseases in wild populations, especially primates.


Below are excerpts of their conversations with Karen Kernan, URECA Director.

Interview excerpts

. How has being involved in research shaped your experience of SB?
Ista. Doing research has helped me grow intellectually and personally. I learned things ranging from laboratory techniques and how to do research--to valuable life lessons (not giving up, always trying). I've developed relationships with great people in the lab, and with my mentor. And I really like the work: doing data analysis, sharing data with team members. They're always helpful, they're always there to give you suggestions and guide you in the right direction. I love working with them!



Karen. How has being involved in research enhanced your education?
Renee. Research has taught me more than anything I could get out of a classroom. We have laboratory classes where we learn techniques … but it isn’t until you apply them in a research setting, that you actually care to know the results. You’re not doing this for a grade, but because you want to—that ‘s how you know you want to be there!... Overall, research has brought to me new experiences that I don’t think I would have got anywhere else. Recently, I had the opportunity to present at a national conference. When you first walk in and you see that this is no joke, this is the real deal—with rows and rows of posters, and exhibitors--it was amazing! The chance to talk to everybody about my research was amazing. I can’t wait to do it again!  … I love URECA too. This year was the best year!

RachelJaffeKaren. What did you learn from doing your creative honors thesis project?
Rachel. I learned how to synthesize all the information that I’d done research on. For each chapter of Fifty Forward, I did actual research on emerging technologies. I had to understand what people wanted to read, and how to communicate that effectively….There’s that balance of wanting to explain, and not getting bogged down by the explanation, or neglecting the story. I’m still working towards that balance of writing both a commentary and something that’s readable. . I had to learn how to integrate big ideas. And how to create an extended character- that was difficult for me, much different than when writing short stories. It was a lot of writing, a lot of work – but I learned so much from doing this!

Karen. What do you enjoy about research?
Sam. When you take courses in science and read science textbooks, it's sometimes easy to forget what science actually is. When you do research, you're reminded what it is —that it's not just problems at the back of the book that you're solving for. You really learn how much of a trial and error and problem solving process it is. There's a real manual labor component. That's something that I find exciting. It's not just something you read and talk about: it's actually something you do. Doing research informs how you learn science. You learn it very differently. Doing research has helped me also with writing about science. I like writing for a general audience. There's a certain joy in explaining what science is. 


Karen. How has being involved in research shaped your experience of SB?
James. Research has really been the focus of everything I’ve done. It hasn’t supplemented my education: it’s been the most important part of my experience here at Stony Brook. And it’s really what I take away from Stony Brook:  the ability to get involved right away with research, with no experience, no skills, and to be able to learn more and more each day and to get to the point that I feel confident that I can go to graduate school and be successful. I’ve been involved in the lab for the entire time that I’ve been here, and I’ve been able to be with the same mentors. I think it was the perfect environment for me. I was with great mentors who were willing to really help me when they didn’t have anything to gain from it. They were willing to read abstracts, look at my posters; they encouraged me to apply for fellowships and go to conferences. I benefitted from an environment where people wanted to help me. 

SidraMahfoozKaren. What for you was valuable about doing research as an undergraduate?
Sidra. I think research is one of the best things you can do as an undergraduate. It's very different from your regular classes. You have the chance to pick a topic you find really interesting and run with it. By studying and analyzing issues in depth, you can come to understand the dynamic underlying concepts behind the topic of your research. You get to push yourself in so many ways—your creativity, your critical thinking, your writing skills—by formulating an original work with your own findings and arguments that you can later present. I've also had the privilege of working under remarkable professors here at Stony Brook, and to learn from their experience and knowledge directly is an amazing opportunity, one  that I will remain grateful for. Most importantly, I feel that research helps to foster that love of learning and the desire to understand things better, and the value for that can't be measured. It is really a great experience!


. What for you was valuable about doing research as an undergraduate at SB?
Kunal. I think the main thing research does is that forces you to think on your own. In doing research, you really develop critical thinking skills. My mentor seemed to know when I could figure it out. He would point me in the right direction but would allow be to work out the answers on my own.

. What for you was valuable about doing research as an undergraduate at SB?
Jon. I learned the most from doing research. I really learned about how to think critically about biological problems. It also reinvigorated my interest in biology. … I was able to immerse myself in science. And I loved it. CSHL is also just a great place. Working there was definitely a stimulating experience. I was always surrounded by people who were really smart, and at all times were also really helpful, really friendly.


Karen. How has being involved in research shaped your experience of SB?
Roy. I think that I had a very different research experience from most. A lot of students I know work in labs, and work in close association with faculty & graduate students. For me, doing research was very individual. I had a lot of freedom to choose my research topic. I had never gotten so specialized and delved so deeply into one topic before. And I found that there’s a surprising amount of scholarship out there, even on a topic which I tried to narrowly define. Every time you read a book you’ll find three more essential books that you haven’t read… Just writing the thesis for me was extremely valuable. I took all these notes, generated data, but then you go through the process of organizing it, and putting it into something intelligible, and compact. You get used to thinking about currents of scholarship, looking at how others have tackled questions through time, adding or refuting previous scholarship. I feel it has prepared me well for graduate school. That and the two graduate courses I’ve taken on ethnomusicology. I’m really looking forward to next year.

VirginiaMuleKaren. What have you gained from being involved in undergraduate research ?
Ginny. Research has definitely changed the way I look at things. In high school, I hated the idea of research. It seemed so boring and now I’ve learned that it’s really so exciting and I want to continue. My main mentor has been Dr. Andreas Koenig from the Anthropology. By chance, I took his undergraduate class, "Controversies in Human Biology and Behavior," in my sophomore year. During my junior year, one of the graduate students recommended that I take Prof. Koenig’s graduate course in primate behavior. So I took the class. And that was my first introduction to scientific research. I learned a lot, the power of statistics….Just recently, I presented at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in April. I got to attend really great talks before giving my own presentation. It was just a really good experience, to talk to influential anthropologists— people I had read/cited in classes. It helped me to learn how to communicate to people about the projects, and how to respond to questions. It was a really great experience for me!

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