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Fralin Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program perseveres in the face of COVID-19

Virginia Tech
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After canceling last year’s program because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute returns as 20 students embark on a full summer of research.

SURF gives undergraduate students hands-on research experiences during a 10-week program that mimics graduate training. The program gives students the tools to make critical career decisions by providing them not only with research experience but also with professional development and networking opportunities.

“Providing opportunities for students to engage in research can be immensely valuable to their undergraduate experience at Virginia Tech. The SURF program aligns with our vision to support education, research, and underserved and underrepresented students. I am thrilled that the Fralin Life Sciences Institute continues to partner with the Office of Undergraduate Research to create these research experiences,” said Matt Hulver, executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

Through their research projects, the SURF awardees tackle environmental and life sciences-related challenges with innovative technology and guidance from a faculty mentor.

Both the Office of Undergraduate Research and the Fralin Life Sciences Institute support the SURF program.

“The students will not only conduct cutting-edge research with faculty mentors from across campus, but they will also grow personally and professionally through participation in a specially designed Communicating Science series, weekly professional development workshops, and a unique communication skill-building community,” said Keri Swaby, director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Research. “This will help SURFers build confidence in sharing their research with a broad audience.”

Preference is given to rising second- or third-year undergraduates who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and who have not previously engaged in a full-time summer research experience. Prior to applying, students identify a faculty mentor in the life sciences.

Students who are selected to receive a fellowship must commit to SURF full-time since it is a 40-hour per week training program. A $4,000 stipend is granted to each Virginia Tech fellow.

This year’s fellowship recipients are:

  • Josephine Beyer, majoring in nanomedicine in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Daniel Capelluto.
  • Aymeric Busidan, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Guillaume Pilot.
  • Spencer Chase, majoring in experimental neuroscience in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Sujith Vijayan.
  • Lindsay Clay, majoring in experimental neuroscience in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Andrea Bertke.
  • Felicity deToll, majoring in environmental science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Erin Hotchkiss.
  • Maegan Gabby, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Brandon Jutras.
  • Alison Henry, majoring in biomedical engineering in the College of Engineering. Faculty mentor: Jake Socha.
  • Ian Hicklin, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Anne Brown.
  • Andrew Hynes, majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Dana Hawley.
  • Laily Jaghori, majoring in microbiology in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Xiaofeng Wang.
  • Rebecca Kelly, majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Birgit Scharf.
  • Anna Makarov, majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Silke Hauf.
  • Justin Markov Madanick, majoring in microbiology in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Ann Stevens.
  • Annabelle Owens, majoring in microbiology in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Bryan Hsu.
  • Shannon Pollock, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Biswarup Mukhopadhyay.
  • Samantha San, majoring in biological systems engineering in the College of Engineering. Faculty mentor: Juhong Chen.
  • Jennie Weitzenhofer, majoring in wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment. Faculty mentor: Marcella Kelly.
  • Tamer Whittle-Hage, majoring in clinical neuroscience in the College of Science. Faculty mentor: Sarah Clinton.
  • Bryce Wozniak, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Daniel Slade.
  • Brynn Yaun, majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Faculty mentor: Joseph Hoyt.

Five of this year’s fellows originally planned to participate in last year’s program but deferred to this year after the cancellation in 2020.

“Last year I was so excited to participate in the SURF program, but unfortunately because of COVID-19, I was no longer able to spend the summer in the research lab full time,” said Maegan Gabby, a rising senior majoring in biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who was deferred to this year’s program. “I wanted to still do it this summer because I really wanted to spend full time in the research lab and make significant strides in my research projects, which is something I’m not able to do during the semester.”

SURF students will wrap up their summer with Virginia Tech’s Annual Summer Research Symposium virtually held on July 29. The symposium gives students the opportunity to both present their work and learn about their peers’ summer research.

Even in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SURF experience endures and plans to remain mostly in person. Moving into the summer, SURF students will have the opportunity to discover, innovate, and advance their careers all within the context of summer research.

Story by Tyler Harris


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