On September 17th, Robert Morris faculty, staff, and students gathered in Rogal Chapel to celebrate Constitution Day. Audience members entered the inviting chapel to the sound of patriotic American compositions played by some of Robert Morris’ talented musicians. Supported by the Robert Morris Oral History Center and Daughters of the American Revolution, the event consisted of a panel of several veterans. The veterans shared their stories and roles in their tours, which included the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Topics of exploration included the idea of brotherhood, the comparison of Iraq and Afghanistan, leadership in the military, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Audience members left with more than just the unique stories of these speakers, but also with a sense of what defending America’s constitution really means.
Learning German for the past three months has become significantly more challenging. My progress is not as rapid as it used to be, and psychologically, it is slightly discouraging. That is not to say that I do not feel the progress, however. I can tell that I’ve gotten further in these past few months than I was during my last year of high school German. Guided teaching was definitely the best approach for the foundations of the language, but for vocabulary, there is no better method than reading and listening to the language.
I have been trying to dedicate a few hours a week to a mixture of reading German novels/short stories, and listening to German podcasts, videos, and news sources, such as the Deutsche Welle. I still struggle to hear everything clearly in the language’s native speed, but after a few listens, I usually get the basic information, and with a few more, I tend understand most everything said in the reports. For reading, I have found parallel texts to be an unbelievably helpful resource. It prevents me from having to keep referring to an online translator to type the whole sentence in to check my accuracy, but I still need to refer to dictionaries for simple single words or small phrases. After finishing my current short story collection, I intend to do a slow, thorough reading of Franz Kafka’s Die Verlandung, known as The Metamorphosis to English readers.
Several new challenges have risen since my last update. Time has been much harder to find, with the studying for my first actuarial exam, and some familial health issues that needed focused on, while still trying to maintain a 4 days a week work schedule. However, I have learned a bit from the experience and realized the importance of practicing my language skills whenever I get the chance!
Receiving the Enrichment Award has allowed me to continue learning the Spanish language. In order to advance my Spanish speaking and writing skills I enrolled in a six-week Spanish III course at the Community College of Allegheny (CCAC). The class has been a great experience and has gone by so quickly. I had not taken a Spanish class in over a year, and this was a great opportunity to refresh my memory from my high school classes. I found that I had already been taught (in high school) most of the subjects that we covered in this CCAC class; however, I feel that I learned so much more this time. Because each class was nearly four hours long, I was able to fully understand the topics, grammar, and syntax that were taught.
The professor for this course is from Puerto Rico and he is great. It was such a nice change to learn Spanish from a native Spanish speaker. Sometimes, it is actually easier to understand what he is saying in Spanish than in English! Since the class was only six weeks long, the work has been intensive. We have a large chapter test each week, and we do homework from our textbook, Spanish movie reviews, group projects, essays, and presentations as well. Because of this, I feel that my entire class has learned quickly and that we have all become good friends.
The most difficult part of the course has been completely immersing myself into learning. This Spanish class had the potential to be whatever each person made of it. There are definitely ways to pass the class by using Google Translate for all assignments or translating each sentence word by word from English when speaking. However, I wanted to truly learn Spanish and speak it well, so I used a Spanish-English dictionary only when necessary and did my best to think in Spanish when listening and speaking. Overall, my Spanish class has been challenging, but fun and well worth it, and I am excited to continue onto the next level.
More recently in the lab, my time has been focused on optimizing and performing the reactive oxidative species (ROS) assay. As my lab team has not used this particular assay before, one could say that I was breaking new ground with this experiment in the lab. We thought it best to establish and perform the controls before beginning the actual experimentation.
We know that chemical hydrogen peroxide will produce ROS in cells no matter what. After determining the proper concentration range to use, experimentation was just a matter of seeding the cells into a 96-well plate overnight, giving the cells treatment and performing the assay the following day.
The first trial wasn’t completely unsuccessful; however, something was clearly amiss. After communicating with a Cell-Biolabs (company the ROS reagents are from) technician, we learned where we went wrong. In the end, the main problem came down to two very fixable issues: 1. We hadn’t seeded enough cells in the plate the night before and 2. We needed to change to a specialized 96-well plate that would make the experiment easier and give us more data points-which the experimental protocol did not specify in its instructions. Believe me, I wasn’t happy that the company hadn’t included this key information.
After making these two simple adjustments, we were able to properly establish our positive control and were also able to obtain over 200 working data points for each sample. In the final portions of experimentation, we will actually be able to treat the cells with cytokines (chemicals that simulate cancer type environment by creating replicative stress) and determine whether or not there is an ROS response and establish if any correlation exists between ROS and the amount of polymerase eta protein in the cells.
I’ve learned extensive information about modern biochemistry and molecular biology experimental techniques and have become proficient in essentially all of the ones I’ve been taught. Learning how to culture human cells, chemically treat them, count them, and perform ROS assays using them are all things I may not have experienced had it not been for the Honors Enrichment Award. I want to thank the RMU honors program, Professor Harold, Professor VanDieren, and Lindsey Sobolosky for their support and providing me the opportunity to better my academic and professional career. And it is my hope that my experience will demonstrate that you don’t need to go to a huge state school in order to have awesome opportunities as an undergrad, you just need to go to RMU.
Damian Di Florio
Since my last update, I have made progress in my journey to French fluency. I have continued to work with Rosetta Stone and speak with Hana, my pen pal. Through my primary learning aid, Rosetta Stone, I have completed three units out of twenty. During June, I mainly refreshed on what I learned in high school, but am starting to learn new vocabulary and verbs as the units progress. Using the software is becoming more comfortable, and I am also able to move faster through it as I use it more. The most surprising aspect of Rosetta Stone is how much my accent has advanced. In high school, I was embarrassed to talk in class; my accent was so bad that my teacher deemed it “Californian French.” I am really happy that I am now confident about my accent, but there’s always room for improvement!
In addition, talking to Hana is more natural. Unfortunately, we do not talk as frequently as I would like too, but when we do talk, we use less and less English. Also, I do not have to use an online translator as often. Besides the fact that Hana is helping me with French, she is a really cool person, and I am lucky to have met her!
Even though I have had much success I have also had some setbacks. I attempted to begin reading Le Petit Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry. Both Hana and my friend from high school, Gabby Puma, read this book and thought I would have no problem with it. The first problem I had was that Le Petit Prince is in the verb tense, passé simple. This verb tense is difficult to understand because I did not learn it in high school or with Rosetta Stone yet. Additionally, there is difficult vocabulary that I have not covered either. I plan on studying some of the book’s vocabulary on Quizlet and taking another shot at reading it in August.
I am having fun with my journey to French fluency and look forward to what will come next!
The past month and a half of learning German has been enlightening for me. It has provided me with an experience I thought I had left behind in high school. For the most part, my time has been spent on refreshing my memory from high school. I often refer back to my old high school notes and vocabulary lists as I complete daily tasks, such as listening to the daily videos on the Deustche Welle, and my occasional reading of German short stories. The materials I am using, while basic, are certainly helpful. As things are going right now, I will hopefully finish at least one German novella by the end of July, and a third before school starts again in August.
To date, the hardest part about learning the language has been trying to force myself not to translate everything into English in my head as I read it. I have rebel against the instinct to revert to my native language. The challenge has proven to be fun instead of frustrating, as I expected.
However, as fantastic as this experience has been, my favorite part has been my unexpected reconnection with my old high school German teacher. I reached out to him in early June for recommendations on materials and online resources. I always looked up to him, but I never got a chance to express the passion for the language he had passed on to me. Recently, I’ve been talking to him more, and he’s been a great help in finding new material. He has also helped me understand several German grammar points that I just could not grasp by myself.
This will mark my second year with the Gittlen Cancer Research Foundation. I work in the Penn State College of Medicine on the seventh floor of the Biomedical Research (BMR) building, and my desk window overlooks the small wooded area behind the Penn State Hershey campus.
This year I was fortunate enough to be awarded the new Honors Enrichment Award, and thought it was practical to apply the award to the research I was already doing in the lab. After several discussions with my lab’s principle investigator (Dr. Kristen Eckert) and RMU’s Professor Harold, it was decided that I would pursue my own independent research, but in a way that would be applicable to projects already going on in the Eckert lab.
The Eckert lab seeks to understand the important mechanisms that disrupt DNA replication during the Synthesis (or S. phase) phase of the cell cycle. The lab’s research focuses on how replicative stress (in the form of inflammation) causes such disruptions, which lead to mutations, which finally lead to tumor forming cancer cells. In fact, chronic inflammation is a hallmark of cancer. Better understanding these mechanisms will allow doctors and scientists to more effectively treat and prevent cancer and cause the least amount (ideally none) of damage to the patient’s healthy cells.
My research is specifically focused on the reactive oxidative species (ROS) made by cells in relation to replicative stress. Basically, I am looking at negatively charged oxygen species within the cell that arise during what we think are the beginning stages of cancer development.
The experience in the lab this summer is proving to be a challenge, but I am incredibly excited to see what our findings will be. At any rate, the work being done by Dr. Eckert’s lab and the results that we produce will always be a brand new step on the path to finding better treatments and preventions for cancer.