Vollum/NGP Summer Undergraduate Program
The Vollum/NGP Summer Undergraduate Program provides fellowships for undergraduate students to engage in neuroscience research at OHSU. Talented young scientists from around the United States and overseas are selected through a competitive application process. Students are partnered with labs where they pursue independent research in molecular, cellular, and behavioral neuroscience. In addition to working in the lab, students attend regular classes on the principles of modern neuroscience, and receive valuable mentoring on applying to graduate school and pursuing careers in science.
John Brigande, Ph.D.
Reena Clements, Ph.D.
Patrick Kerstein, Ph.D.
Gary Westbrook, M.D.
Kevin Wright, Ph.D.
Gary Westbrook - Senior Scientist, Vollum Institute; Director, Neuroscience Graduate Program
Skyler Jackman - Assistant Scientist, Vollum Institute
Alexandria Lassetter - Neuroscience Graduate Student
Yang Chen - Neuroscience Graduate Student
Photo 1: Kayla Lanker explains her research to Elena Andresen, Ph.D., executive vice president and provost of OHSU
Photo 2: Kristen Woods presents her research at OHSU's 2018 Research Internship Poster Symposium
Photo 3: A group of students in the Vollum/NGP Summer Internship Program take a break from research to hike in the Columbia River Gorge
2018 Summer Fellowship Recipients
Dominica Cao, Smith College
My time in the O'Roak lab has been sweetly reminiscent of childhood days immersed in music. The practice room is exchanged for the laboratory, and optimization brings bouts of successes and failures. While I learned a lot using mouse models to study the genetic basis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it was a delight to be welcomed into an environment where creativity in troubleshooting, utility of resources, and methodical application of the scientific method were traits strongly reflected in the mentors around me. I had been averse to wet lab techniques prior to the summer's commencement (laboratory courses were lackluster and unimaginative) so you could say my experience was nothing short of a revelation. There was an art to cryosectioning, an aesthetic beauty in immunostaining, and the thought processes used to understand neurodevelopment were both clarifying and consuming. I'm humbled to have found a lab with incredible people and certain that a life in research can fuel me just as music does.
Parsa Farhang, University of Washington
I spent this summer working in Dr. Marc Freeman's Lab at the Vollum Institute. I helped conduct a series of screens to identify genes in glia that are important for cell-cell interactions with the goal of understanding how glia support/maintain axons long term. I learned a great deal about how to conduct neuroscience research, particularly with Drosophila (fruit flies), as I got a basic understanding of how to formulate a hypothesis, identify ways to test it, and use hands-on lab techniques to achieve a result. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) as I got a priceless foundation in neuroscience research this summer. This will undoubtedly help me in my future endeavors as I begin thinking about grad school and beyond!
Kayla C. Lanker, Pomona College
I've always been really fascinated by different mechanisms in nature — from how a hummingbird is able to hover effortlessly in the air to how the molecular machinery of ATP synthase works — so science and research is the perfect way to answer all of the questions and curiosities that I have about how things work. This summer I was able to learn more about the realm of synapses. I was researching a little-known protein called alpha2delta-2 that is important in synapse formation and maintenance, and I'm excited to take what I've learned this summer and apply it to my senior thesis research focused on the breakdown of the synapse in Alzheimer's disease. I had a wonderful experience working with Kathleen Beeson and Eric Schnell this summer. They and the rest of the lab were so welcoming and inspired me by their dedication to their research, so staying late at lab or an experiment failing were always exciting with them as my mentors. While this summer showed me that I really enjoy research, I also really enjoy working with people and health issues, so I think an M.D./Ph.D. (or just one degree) might be in my future? Who knows… :)
Hannah Markovic, UCLA
Even though I always knew I wanted to be a scientist, I still had insecurities about whether a Ph.D. and the academic track would be right for me. Over the summer, I worked in the Nicolson Lab attempting to repair an A → G mutation in the zebrafish Cadherin 23 gene using the RNA-editing enzyme Adenosine Deaminase acting on RNA (ADAR2). I discovered that working full-time was actually less stressful and more fulfilling without worrying about homework and rushing to classes, and I enjoyed it more even though the hours were longer. The summer internship program was a great experience that helped me discover what I'm interested in and that gave the interns many useful resources for graduate school.
Ronan O'Shea, Brown University
Prior to this summer, I had a background in cellular electrophysiology but found myself gravitating towards research of large scale neurological systems. I came to OHSU with the goal of developing my skills in computational neuroscience as I begin my senior thesis at Brown University and think of future graduate work. Working in the David Lab, I conceived and developed a computational model for decoding single unit activity recorded in primary auditory cortex (A1). Using pupil diameter as a proxy for arousal state, I observed changes in the response of A1 units to auditory stimuli correlated to changes in arousal. My results suggest that a reliable decoder of A1 activity must employ a dynamic inverse function to account for arousal-related changes in the A1 response function. Incorporating signals from dynamic inputs to the cortex operating on the time scale of changes in arousal state will be an important step in the development of a biophysically principled model of state dependent auditory processing. OHSU was an ideal environment in which to conduct this research, as I interacted daily with enthusiastic, capable researchers who were eager to provide advice.
Jocelyn Santiago-Pérez, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez
This summer at the Vollum Institute, miles away from home, I learned to appreciate the work of neuroscientists like never before. Getting a glimpse of the life I aspire to have as a future neuroscientist, doing research and working with others, was an enriching opportunity that I am incredibly grateful for. My stay at the Westbrook Lab showed me the infinite possibilities in the study of the brain, its networks and the incredible impact a small amount of stimuli can have on neuronal structures. Having this knowledge moving forward has helped me understand that neuroscience is a field that requires a special courage to seek answers to questions that may never have them.
Kristen Woods, University of Louisiana Lafayette
Science has always been something that I was interested in because I always had questions of how and why. My curiosity drew me to neuroscience because we know so little, and the idea of finding answers and new things gave me the drive to pursue this field. I knew that I wanted to be involved in neuroscience research in junior high school, and my passion has not wavered even seven years later. I hope to achieve a Ph.D. in Neurobiology, and work to understand neurodegenerative disease on a molecular level. Being in this program has given me insight on what is to come for my future in research. I believe that hard work, confidence, and a relentless attitude is the key to achieve any goal. You must believe that you can.
Justyne Wyer, Reed College
My summer research examined endocannabinoid signaling in the midbrain periaqueductal grey (PAG) using whole-cell voltage-clamp technique. In continuing this research, I will investigate changes to this signaling system, specifically in the regulation of the cannabinoid type 2 (CB2) receptor, during chronic pain states. One glance at national statistics tells a clear story — this country has a pain problem — which more and more commonly opioid medications are prescribed to treat. Although the short-term benefits of these medications can be great, opioid use can have serious side effects, including high rates of addiction, and even death. Thankfully, cannabinoid treatments may offer an alternative, with nearly unlimited anecdotal reports extoling the powerful analgesic effects of natural cannabis products. I believe that by elucidating the variable regulation of cannabinoid receptors in critical nociceptive modulatory regions such as the PAG, we will be able to start formulating more specific, more efficacious, and non-addictive analgesic alternatives.