Enrichment Award Update: Breaking New Ground in Cancer Research

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

Enrichment Award Update: Successes and Setbacks of Learning French

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!

Mary Funderlich

Honors Enrichment Award: Rediscovering a Passion for the German Language

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.

John Rowland

Honors Enrichment Award: Cancer Research at the Penn State College of Medicine

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.

Damian DiFlorio

Honors Summer Enrichment Award: A Quest to Find the Perfect French Speaking Pen Pal

Receiving the Honors Summer Enrichment Award has allowed me to continue working on my fluency in French.   I practice speaking, listening, reading, and writing with Rosetta Stone.  Additionally, I speak with a pen pal who is fluent in French and English.  Her name is Hana Francioni, and she lives in Morocco!  Hana and I speak mainly in French, but when I make a mistake or cannot understand what she is saying, she explains in English.  The combination of studying with Rosetta Stone and communicating with a fluent speaker has helped me progress greatly.  During July, I plan to start reading a French novel.  I am deciding between Le Petit Nicolas by Goscinny and Le Petit Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupéry.

Unfortunately, I have faced several challenges this summer.  First, finding time to practice with Rosetta Stone can be difficult with two jobs, vacation, and other commitments.  To overcome this challenge, I have adjusted how much I speak to Hana or use Rosetta Stone daily.  I usually fluctuate between fifteen minutes and an hour with a few off days.  Another challenge I faced was initially finding a pen pal.  There are a plethora of different websites that help locate pen pals from different countries.  Finding the perfect site and pen pal was…interesting, to say the least. After several failed attempts and messages from foreign males looking for a romantic pen pal, I decided to try PenPal World.  This site is safe and provided me with many great options.  Hana and I started talking on June 3 and we are becoming good friends.  Overall, I am having fun trying to advance in my fluency and look forward to the rest of summer!

Mary Funderlich

Presenting My Senior Thesis in Gettysburg

The NRHC, Northeast Regional Honors Council, hosts an annual conference in which northeastern American and Canadian honors students can meet and share their independent research. This April, I was fortunate enough to attend the conference in Gettysburg. Since Gettysburg is an influential landmark in American history, the conference theme was “Battlefields of Change.” I presented research on the political commentary of radical revolution as a means of manipulation in dystopian novels such as The Time Machine by H.G. Wells and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. My paper was selected to be a part of the “Battlefields of Power” panel. Other notable pieces on the panel included a look at negatively stereotyped  mafia movies from the 1940s used as propaganda against Italians and poetry aimed at the middle class as a means to raise awareness of deplorable working conditions before the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The panel sparked great discussion on how college students can use their education to make a meaningful political impact on society. The conference was an amazing experience and I hope that other honors students will take advantage of it in the future.

Mella Quirk


Creating the Magic in Honors Seminar

The Honor’s Seminar offered this past Spring was WDW: Creating the Magic. What does WDW stand for? Walt Disney World, of course! That’s right a whole college class about Disney World. I had to take it, not because I am a Disney freak (which I learned is a compliment to some folks), but because I could not pass up the opportunity to get college credit talking about a theme park. After all, I was a second semester senior with 2 classes left on his check sheet and some elective slots to fill.

I must admit, I was probably the least enthusiastic about the course when it started, but that gave me the most room to become more enthusiastic. I wanted to change my perspective on the theme parks, and I definitely did. The only time I ever visited the park was as a Freshman in High School, so I wasn’t young enough to appreciate the kid aspects but also not mature enough to appreciate the more adult aspects of the parks. This course changed my perspective on the parks and really got me to appreciate the attention to detail Disney pays to their parks. We also had some great guest speakers who shed some light onto certain topics within the Disney “universe”.

My goal for the course was to change my mind about Disney. I still might like Disney the least out of all of the people that took this course, but I have an understanding and an appreciation for Disney now. I feel like I gained one extra layer of thinking after this class. Now I try to pay a little more attention to small details when I work on projects. I also want to have a story for my projects, so they can be explained to anybody. This little layer of thinking is very valuable to me, and that’s where the magic is created.

Aaron Hartman

Want to see a sample of the awesome projects being done in Honors Seminar? Check out Aaron’s creative WDW seminar project: Building a Hypothetical Spain Pavilion in Epcot