Fall 2014 Burnett Research Scholars Grant Recipients

 

Christina Kursewicz


Major:  Biomedical Sciences

Faculty mentor:  Dr. Elzbieta Sikorska-Simmons, Department of Sociology

Project title: Palliative Care Education in American Medical Schools.

Project Summary:
In this research project, the extent to which American medical schools teach their students how to implement palliative care into their practice will be assessed. Ideally we could publicize the importance of early palliative care education and impact medical school education curricula to ultimately improve the quality of life for patients with chronic diseases. 

What is your area of research interest?
I am investigating palliative care in the field of medical sociology. My mentor and I are examining the extent to which palliative medical treatments are provided by hospices in Florida, and also exploring the key challenges faced by family caregivers in managing daily care of patients receiving hospice care. These studies sparked my interest in palliative care education in medical schools. I am also involved in biomedical research in the area of Schwann cell biology and myelination at the UCF Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. 

How did you get started in undergraduate research?
I went to my Honors Introduction to Sociology professor’s office hours during the fall semester of my freshman year, and inquired about her research interests. I was planning on pursuing a minor in Medical Sociology, so when I heard that she was investigating palliative care, I wanted to get involved! Biomedical research is something I have always been very interested in, so I contacted researchers at the UCF College of Medicine about getting started.

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?
My mentor and I are planning on attending the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) annual scientific meeting in November of 2014 in Washington D.C., to present two other studies based on palliative care. I hope to use the money from the grant to cover travel costs to go to this national conference, and present our research in an scholarly, professional environment. 

What are your future academic and professional goals?
I aspire to be a physician, and am especially interested in being a dermatologist. I enjoy learning about medical sociology and hope to implement all aspects of treating patients into my future practice. I travelled to St. Kitts and Nevis in June for the President’s Scholars program, where I had the opportunity to learn about the medical system of another country. I was inspired to continue traveling, and would love to further investigate medical practices around the world. 

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?
It has been a great opportunity to see “the other side” of medicine. I am primarily interested in patient care, but patient care starts with research studies. It is amazing to assist in studies that could potentially promote change to better the lives of patients— whether it be medical or social— who are suffering from health conditions.

 

 

Jared Muha


Major:  History

Faculty mentor: Dr. Robert Cassanello, Department of History

Project title: Layers of Neoliberalism:  Analyzing Migratory Effect of Mexican People on the Black Farmworker Population in Apopka, Florida.

Project summary: 
My research inquires into the processes and outcomes of the developing dynamic of farm labor in the South wherein black farmhands were gradually replaced by migratory workers from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. There are three main objectives to my research, which will be researched mainly in the geographical context of Florida. My first objective is to provide a complete background to the history behind black farm laborers leaving the farms and being replaced by a new population, mainly Mexican workers. Secondly is to expand upon research which has been done on the impact that neoliberal policies had on the people of Mexico by looking into how a higher flow of Mexican people to the American farm-labor workforce (as a result of global neoliberal policies) affected the established black farmworker population. Lastly, my research aims to capture the history of a group of people who are gradually becoming smaller as black farmhands are being replaced, and to inquire into the social consciousness and viewpoints of remaining black farmworkers of neoliberalism as it relates to agricultural labor.

What is your area of research interest? 
I am a history major with extremely broad research interests. Intrigued by numerous fields ranging from philosophy to sociology, my research interests span a number of different topics concerning the human condition. Topics such as globalization, race, war, international relations, labor, poverty, indigenous populations, gender, and art, viewed through a multi-/inter-disciplinary or historical lens, are among my currently very wide research interests. 

How did you get started in undergraduate research?
I was referred to the Burnett Research Scholars program by a former professor who suggested it as a way to gain research experience and sample what it is like to do independent research. Having already been interested in pursuing some type of independent work as an undergraduate, I was immediately enticed and decided to apply.

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?
In seeking to capture the history of a “disappearing” population, I will be conducting interviews of black farmworkers who come from this tradition in order to allow them the opportunity to have their stories recorded in some public capacity. The grant will allow me the means to conduct and record these histories so that they may both be used in my research and stand independently as a record for this group of people.

What are your future academic and professional goals?
At this moment I am admittedly unsure what my professional and academic goals are. I have wanted to continue my education for quite a while now, but do not know if I would like to do so immediately after I graduate. The idea of continuing to study and work within issues of neoliberal globalization and its effects on different populations, however, is an exciting prospect that I would certainly like to incorporate into my life’s work.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?
In my opinion, the best thing about independent work is the opportunity to engage with coursework of one’s own choosing and to do so with the resources and autonomy to create something entirely original.

 

 

Nikia Toomey


Major:  Chemistry - Biochemistry Track

Faculty mentor:  Dr. D. Howard Miles, Department of Chemistry

Project title:  A Total Synthesis of a Curvularin:  A Novel ant-Tumor Compound that Occurs Naturally in Fungi.

Project summary: 
The project I am currently working on is a novel total synthesis of a natural product that has been previously characterized through various analytical techniques and identified as an anti-tumor agent. The compound is a cytotoxic extract from the marine-derived fungal strain Penicillium sumatrense MA-92, isolated from rhizosphere of the marine mangrove plant Lumnitzera racemosa. Various types of reactions based on model reactions in literature with similar substrates will be used in succession to synthesize the target molecule; one such reaction is the olefin metathesis reaction, which was the basis of a Nobel Prize winning project in 2005. The final product of this synthesis will be send to the National Cancer Institute where bioassays will be performed against 60 human cancer cell lines. Additionally, after the basic ring structure is completed, further research with respect to this compound may be undertaken to synthesize even more selective and effective derivatives.

What is your area of research interest?
My research is in medicinal chemistry involving organic synthesis, specifically in the field of natural products. The general goal of my research is to identify compounds from natural sources (such as plants and fungi) that could serve as drug leads for pharmaceuticals to combat various cancers (particularly breast, colon, and leukemia), tuberculosis, and blood diseases.

How did you get started in undergraduate research?
I was a student in Dr. Miles’ Organic Chemistry classes and quickly became interested in the field of organic chemistry and, specifically, organic synthesis. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about various aspects of the field of organic chemistry and I wanted to apply what I was learning. Organic chemistry appealed to me because it combines logical approaches and creative problem solving to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. After proving my worth through high academic performance and demonstrating my strong work ethic, I inquired about a position in Dr. Miles’ lab and was granted the opportunity to work in his lab.

How will the Burnett Research Scholars grant help you to achieve the goals of your research project?
This grant will help purchase starting materials (chemicals) for this synthesis. One of the challenging aspects of this synthesis is the necessity of stereoselective reagents, which are quite expensive. Additionally, the Grubb’s catalyst, which is required for the ring closing olefin metathesis, is very expensive. Also, this grant will help pay the fees for the high resolution mass spectrometry of the final product, which is done at the University of Nebraska.

What are your future academic and professional goals?
In the relatively near future I hope to continue working in Dr. Miles’ lab, continue research on this compound, possibly start another synthesis project, or attempt to isolate new extracts from different interesting sources. My long term goal is to be admitted to medical school and pursue a career as a physician. Specialty-wise, I am very interested in radiology.

In your opinion, what is the best thing about being an undergraduate researcher?
I like the independence and the challenges that research presents. Research helps students become better literature reviewers, critical thinkers, and creative problem solvers. These skills are necessary to become a competent professional in any field involving science. Additionally, it helps students gain confidence; since students make some decisions on their own, based on their own reasoning, they come to rely more on their own skills and less on the directions of others. I also enjoy the relationships I have built with various faculty members and professionals in my field. Dr. Miles’ is such an inspiring role model and research has given me the opportunity to learn even more from him than I would have otherwise.