Drew’s Unique Science Mentorship Program Celebrates 35 Years
The Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti connects students with retired scientists.
September 2016 – Drew University’s Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti marked its 35th anniversary with a day of celebration.
Through RISE, retired scientists like 2015 Nobel Laureate Dr. William Campbell mentor Drew undergraduates and work one-on-one with them on real-world research in a laboratory setting. Often students go on to publish this research in academic journals and earn PhD’s, MD’s and other advanced degrees at institutions such as Cornell, Princeton and Stanford.
RISE Associate Neal Connors, who attended the celebration, enjoys the close interaction with students, who study many different branches of science and end up in many different fields. “There isn’t one career outcome—your options are limitless,” he added.
Students showcase summer research
RISE’s big day kicked off in the hallways of the Hall of Sciences, which were lined with posters detailing the research conducted by students at the Drew Summer Science Institute. At the Institute, many students begin research projects that culminate in their honors thesis.
For example, Taylor Redmond spent the summer studying a processing center of the brain thanks to a grant from the National Honor Society in Neuroscience. Redmond, whose research centers on the olfactory tubercle, described her advisor, Assistant Professor of Psychology Graham Cousens, as “fantastic.”
“He definitely guides you, but I also have a striking independence in the lab,” Redmond said. “And DSSI is great. It helps you get a glimpse into the research world and what’s expected of you.”
The thread of mentorship was woven into each poster. Senior Lindsay Pearce, who’s studying Alzheimer’s disease, said her advisor, Professor of Biology Roger Knowles, sparked her interest in the subject. “He’s awesome. He’s the reason I’m a neuroscience major,” Pearce said. “Drew is lucky to have him.”
Pearce’s partner on the project, junior Illin Bangug, credited Knowles with helping her decide to enroll in Drew and study neuroscience. What’s more, studying Alzheimer’s disease hits home for her, as her grandmother was diagnosed years ago. “Getting to work on a disease that’s so close to me—it’s huge,” Bangug said.
Alumni talk to undergraduates
Later in the day, four alumni—Christopher Gorman C’87, Jennifer Wollenberg C’99, Derrick Wood C’04 and Maria Falzone C’14—reflected on their career paths and who helped them most at Drew. In addition, they offered advice to current students. The panel discussion was part of the Traphagen Distinguished Alumni Speaker Series and preceded a cocktail reception outside the hall.
Each alum thanked several Drew mentors for guidance toward a successful post-college career. Gorman, for example, cited RISE’s first director, George deStevens, Professor of Chemistry Alan Rosan, Professor Emeritus James Miller and the late Alan Candiotti. Gorman, who’s now a professor of chemistry at North Carolina State University, said simply, “The way you get successful is to recognize the people that have something to teach you.”
Wollenberg, an environmental consultant at The ELM Group in Princeton, N.J., initially thought she’d go to veterinary school after earning her biology degree from Drew. As an undergrad, though, she developed an interest in ecology. In her consulting role, she applies her knowledge of everything from chemistry, physics and biology to engineering, computer technology and math. She also uses skills like public speaking, research, adaptive thinking and interpersonal communication that she developed at Drew.
Wood, a chemistry teacher at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pa., has become a great mentor himself. In fact, his innovative, hands-on approach to science education was recognized last year by the White House, which honored him with a Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
During the discussion, Wood encouraged students to work closely with their RISE mentors and do as much as they can. Among his RISE highlights? Getting his research published with Miller. “Walking out of Drew with [published work]—I was beside myself,” said Wood, who added that working with Miller as a senior was a “truly remarkable experience.”
The most recent graduate on the panel, Falzone, is pursuing a PhD at the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Studies. She said that working in the lab with RISE Associate Arnold Demain helped her recognize her passion for research. She also learned crucial time management skills by doing research and taking classes concurrently, and got better at public speaking after presenting her work to faculty.
“The skills I’ve learned have been invaluable,” Falzone said.