PVM Summer Research Program Fosters Students’ Interest in Discovery

For the past 15 years, Purdue Veterinary Medicine has coordinated the Summer Research Program, which pairs up students and faculty members based on mutual areas of interest for 11 weeks of focused research, seminars, field trips and symposiums. Co-sponsored by Merial, the program continued this summer, hosting a total of 18 veterinary and pre-veterinary students, including 12 Purdue DVM students, two Purdue undergraduate students and one undergraduate each from Earlham College, Southern Illinois University, Tougaloo College and Northwestern University.

Dr. Harm HogenEsch, Purdue Veterinary Medicine associate dean for research and professor of immunopathology, and Dr. Eli Asem, professor of physiology, organize the Summer Research Program and match students with faculty members based on shared research interests. Dr. HogenEsch said the program is designed to make DVM and undergraduate students aware of the opportunities to pursue research and research-related careers, and to increase the number of students that are interested in advanced training following graduation. "Research is the foundation of veterinary and human medicine, and veterinarians make important contributions to biomedical research in universities; in government agencies such as the NIH, USDA and CDC; and in industry. Working closely with faculty, staff members and graduate students helps students understand what is involved in research and can instill a lifelong interest and excitement about research," Dr. HogenEsch said. "Our summer research program also includes undergraduate students interested in veterinary medicine. These students come from all over the US, and the goal of this part of the program is to recruit talented students with an interest in research into our DVM program."

Keturah Ollie-Hayes traveled from Mississippi, where she is an undergraduate student at Tougaloo College, to participate in the Summer Research Program and work on an animal behavior study with Dr. Niwako Ogata, assistant professor of animal behavior in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

Keturah Ollie-Hayes traveled from Mississippi, where she is an undergraduate student at Tougaloo College, to participate in the Summer Research Program and work on an animal behavior study with Dr. Niwako Ogata, assistant professor of animal behavior in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences.

Summer Research Program participant Ana Vázquez-Págan, an undergraduate pre-veterinary student, discusses her research poster on comparative oncology research with PVM Chief Large Animal Technologist Pat Navarre (left) and Clinical Associate Professor of Small Animal Community Practice Steve Thompson.

Summer Research Program participant Ana Vázquez-Págan, an undergraduate pre-veterinary student, discusses her research poster on comparative oncology research with PVM Chief Large Animal Technologist Pat Navarre (left) and Clinical Associate Professor of Small Animal Community Practice Steve Thompson.

Working with their faculty mentors, the students tackle complex and challenging research topics, as evidenced in the following examples:  Brittany Rasch, of the Purdue DVM Class of 2019, worked with Dr. Sophie Lelièvre, professor of cancer pharmacology in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, and Farzaneh Atrian Afyani, graduate teaching assistant in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, to study breast cancer progression mechanisms; Keturah Ollie-Hayes, an undergraduate student from Tougaloo College in Mississippi, collaborated with Dr. Niwako Ogata, assistant professor of animal behavior in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, on a study of behavior responses in dogs during times when the dogs are separated from or greeted by their owners; and Abbie Haffner, of the Purdue DVM Class of 2019, worked with Dr. Marxa Figueiredo, assistant professor of basic medical sciences, studying therapeutic peptides for osteoarthritic cartilage regeneration.

All three of these students were excited to learn about research in the veterinary field. Brittany Rasch pursued the program to get a better understanding of the research process. "I'm interested in pathology so I wanted to do the program to see what research is like, since I never really did research during undergrad. I decided to branch-out to see what else I can do. I hadn't done anything with cell culture before, so I have learned a lot about that," Brittany explained. "My work is very self-directed, so I've learned how to think about experiments and how to develop them in better ways. Things don't always work out the way you think they will, so I've learned how to tweak it to find a different answer or look for something else."

Abbie Haffner also enjoyed conducting research for the first time. "Research is unlike anything I have done previously.  The ability to manipulate cells and mirror changes that occur in our body while testing potential new drugs is amazing," Abbie said. "Patience has never been my strong suit. However, working in the lab and hitting the inevitable roadblocks that occur in research has allowed me to learn a little bit of patience, gain a better understanding of perseverance and definitely strengthen my problem-solving skills. I truly believe this experience will help me down the road with anything I choose to pursue, and I am extremely grateful for it."

Keturah Ollie-Hayes came from Mississippi to participate in the Summer Research Program because it is one of the few veterinary programs for undergraduate students in the country. "Purdue has a very well-known veterinary college where I'm from, so I was pleasantly surprised and very excited when I got accepted! This is my first time doing research, so I'm learning the research process, including the clinical part of animal behavior as well as the research part," Keturah said. "I haven't spent much time in a basic lab, so I've also learned other skills like using advanced equipment. Purdue is more advanced than my school, so it's been very exciting." Keturah spent the summer working with Dr. Niwako Ogata, who was impressed with Keturah's drive and dedication. "She's very interested in learning. I see her having lots of motivation and focus in this new environment, since she's coming from out-of-state, and working with new people and studying a new topic. I'm impressed with that," said Dr. Ogata.

The PVM faculty members involved with the Summer Research Program enjoy introducing participants to research and are continually impressed by the students they meet. Dr. Sophie Lelièvre began participating in the program in 2001, soon after joining the PVM faculty. "Every year that I have welcomed a student from this program in my laboratory, I have been amazed by the student's capacity to adjust to the research settings and to provide a meaningful contribution to the research project. These students are truly outstanding and motivated in general, and it is a pleasure to interact with them," explained Dr. Lelièvre. "I think that it is important for veterinary students and future veterinary students to be involved in research because it enriches their knowledge of biomedical sciences and gives them an in-depth perspective of the different steps that help lead to the management and treatment of diseases."

Purdue veterinary student Abbie Haffner works in a laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Marxa Figueiredo, assistant professor of basic medical sciences, during the 2016 Summer Research Program.

Purdue veterinary student Abbie Haffner works in a laboratory under the supervision of Dr. Marxa Figueiredo, assistant professor of basic medical sciences, during the 2016 Summer Research Program.

Brittany Rasch, of the Purdue DVM Class of 2019, examines slides related to breast cancer research being led by Dr. Sophie Lelièvre, professor of cancer pharmacology in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences.

Brittany Rasch, of the Purdue DVM Class of 2019, examines slides related to breast cancer research being led by Dr. Sophie Lelièvre, professor of cancer pharmacology in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences.

The Summer Research Program's impact goes even further. Dr. Ogata enjoys sharing her research and specialty with students especially because other opportunities and programs for students to learn about animal behavior are scarce. "Animal behavior is foundational, core knowledge that all veterinary students need to know. I try to open up the opportunity for any future, outside or Purdue students," said Dr. Ogata. Dr. Marxa Figueiredo works with students in the program because of how rewarding it is to mentor students and watch them learn new things. "Students become more well-rounded when they participate in this program. PVM is known as a strong school for teaching, but it is also strong in certain research areas and I think it's important for students to know that," Dr. Figueiredo explained. "When they graduate and go out into practice, they might be more open to new developments and to reading about new research."

The Summer Research Program also provides a variety of events and activities for the students, including a welcoming picnic at a local park, weekly seminars led by the faculty mentors and a field trip to Covance Laboratories in Greenfield, Ind. In addition, the students attended a combined Veterinary Scholars Symposium with University of Illinois Summer Research Program students in June. The program concluded July 27, when the Summer Research Fellows participated in a research poster presentation in Lynn Hall where they shared their findings with PVM faculty and staff before traveling to The Ohio State University for the Merial-NIH Veterinary Scholars Symposium July 28 - July 31.


This story is part of the 2016 Annual PVM Report.

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