San Jacinto College students research the Orsay virus and 5-HTP at Rice University
08.14.2015 | By Jeannie Peng-Armao
Two students were selected out hundreds of applicants for Summer Undergraduate Research Program
PASADENA, Texas – Two San Jacinto College students earned their spots to the Rice University Summer Undergraduate Research Program for research training in biosciences and bioengineering.
Norma Perez and Brianna Siller were two of 10 college students selected out of hundreds from across the nation who applied to train alongside Rice University faculty mentors and learn various approaches to study naturally-occurring genetic networks, artificial genetic and metabolic networks, and biomolecular structure, function, and evolution.
Perez chose to study the effects of 5-Hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) in drosophila melanogaster. Siller's research focused on the structural and functional studies of Orsay virus proteins. Both students presented their research findings at a recent Rice University poster symposium that concluded the 10-week summer program.
It has taken Perez and Siller two years of studying under the guidance of San Jacinto College STEM professors to prepare them for such an opportunity.
"When I began studying at San Jacinto College, I wanted to be an artist, but then I found I really enjoyed science and then chemistry and pharmacy," said Perez, who is in the San Jacinto College Honors program and a member of Phi Theta Kappa. "I want to study the sciences to make a difference in people's lives."
Such a sense of purpose is the reason why students enter into fields in science, technology, engineering, and math (commonly referred to as STEM), noted Dr. Ann Cartwright. Dr. Cartwright is a chemistry professor and one of the faculty members from San Jacinto College who prepare students each year to seek prestigious and resume-building opportunities like the Rice University internship program.
"It's not a secret that many of the high-paying careers involve studies in STEM, but there's more to why a person chooses a STEM field," said Dr. Cartwright. "There is job security, a sense of purpose, fulfillment on the job, autonomy – STEM-related fields can give you all of this."
The fact that two women were chosen for research training in the internship program also shows a contrast from when Dr. Cartwright began her science career more than 30 years ago.
"Doors are definitely opening up for more women in STEM," said Dr. Cartwright. "When I was in graduate school, I was one of the few women there. It was very intimidating, but I think this is changing. I hope we, who are in the middle to late parts of our careers, can serve to influence young women and their STEM career choices."
For Siller, a recent San Jacinto College graduate, having strong role models in STEM led her to applying for numerous scholarships and internships. She has said that she considers the completion of college scholarship applications her part-time job. Siller will attend the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) this Fall to study chemistry. In addition to her Rice University internship, she is a recipient of a Houston Chemical Association scholarship; a National Science Foundation-Bridge to STEM Careers scholarship; the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (T-STEM) scholarship; and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholarship. She was also selected to the NASA Aerospace Scholars program in Spring 2015.
"I never thought I'd be able to do something like this," said Siller, who juggled classes at both San Jacinto College and UHCL during her summer internship. "It was a challenge that I would never pass up. I felt like a Rice University student for 10 weeks."
The Rice University Summer Undergraduate Research Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, is one of many opportunities that provide San Jacinto College students with research experience before transferring to a university. The College provides robotics research opportunities through the LSAMP scholarship and at the Artificial Intelligence Technology labs. Research opportunities are also provided through the Bridges to STEM Careers grant, through collaboration between San Jacinto College and UHCL.
"People are going to see a lot more research in the future at San Jacinto College," said Nate Wiggins, math professor. "Our goal is to get more students involved in research earlier in their academic career. Having strong foundations in STEM will allow them to go into more advanced situations at the university level where they can excel in the frontiers of science."
The San Jacinto College STEM Council supports all STEM-related research opportunities available through the College. For more information, visit sanjac.edu/stem-council.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. As an Achieving the Dream Leader College, San Jacinto College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of approximately 30,000 credit students. The College offers 186 degrees and certificates, with 46 technical programs and a university transfer division. Students benefit from a support system that maps out a pathway for success, and job training programs that are renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $690 million each year to the Texas workforce.