Research internship program at Kettering University getting freshman engaged in meaningful research opportunities
A new research internship program at Kettering University, a nationally ranked Flint, Michigan,-based science, engineering and business university, is allowing students in Applied Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry access to extensive research opportunities as undergraduates – opportunities that most students wouldn’t typically experience until their senior year or even graduate school.
Michelle Ammerman and Elyse Hossink (L-R)
The Bell-Kagle Undergraduate Research Internship program was built from the Bell-Kagle Endowment, a fund created by alumnus Bob Kagle ’78 in honor of G. Reginald Bell, longtime Chemistry professor at Kettering. The research positions funded through the endowment for students majoring in Applied Biology, Chemistry and Biochemistry help freshman students in those majors find appropriate employment to fulfill Kettering’s graduation requirement that all students complete a minimum number of co-op terms. The positions also give faculty added resources to conduct meaningful applied research on campus.
“This program rewards high achieving students with the opportunity to work closely with faculty and get lab and research experience that is really unprecedented,” Bell said. “This is an academic-altering experience for students.”
The first two Bell-Kagle interns, Mia Jonascu and Elyse Hossink, were chosen in 2015. Jonascu is working with Dr. Veronica Moorman, faculty member in Chemistry/Biochemistry, and Dr. James Cohen, faculty member in Applied Biology, on research aimed at identifying and characterizing evolutionary ancestors of the bubonic plague. Hossink is working with Dr. Michelle Ammerman and Dr. Cheryl Samaniego, faculty members in Applied Biology, on research determining medicinal properties of plant extracts.
“Paid undergraduate research opportunities like these are really rare,” said Dr. Stacy Seeley, department head of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering and Applied Biology at Kettering University. “This is an amazing opportunity for freshman undergraduates to help conduct meaningful research alongside faculty. It is experience that cannot be duplicated in the classroom.”
Students are selected based on a competitive application process that includes reviewing academic performance and interest. Faculty members interested in involving Bell-Kagle students on their projects also submit proposals. A committee of faculty then matches qualified students with relevant research project requests.
Both Jonascu and Hossink are freshmen playing important roles in complex research that is not only preparing them for future education and career opportunities, but will also likely result in both students seeing their names listed as contributors on published research in academic journals.
“By the time Elyse is done working on this project, we’ll be close to getting a paper published and her name will be on it,” Ammerman said. “Being published as an undergraduate is a huge achievement, and something that will help a lot as she looks at graduate schools.”
Hossink also notes that the opportunity to work full-time directly with faculty is a major advantage.
“The professors that I work with are more than just advisers to me on the project, they have become my mentors and have been teaching me important skills and information, as well as inside tips and tricks of the trade,” Hossink said. “I have learned more in my co-op then I could ever hope to learn from a textbook or lecture and I believe that this will give me a great advantage as I continue on my educational journey.”
The program also encourages interdisciplinary collaboration. Both Jonascu and Hossink are working on projects that include faculty from different academic programs.
“I’m learning things that I wouldn’t be just working with professors in my major,” Jonascu said “It’s a very valuable experience.”
Along with simply learning valuable skills, both students are also learning them at a far younger stage in their education than undergraduates at most universities.
“Mia’s getting exposure to two very different types of techniques,” Cohen said. “She’s learning that science isn’t done alone – no matter what your field is, you have to work with and talk with other people. Getting that experience as a freshman is really useful.”
After launching the program with two participants this year, the program is expected to expand and provide intensively experiential opportunities for more students in the future.
“This is a very valuable program for both students and faculty,” Seeley said. “Giving underclassmen this type of immersive experience early on has immense benefits for students as they determine their future educational and career paths. It also greatly benefits faculty and the University by enhancing opportunities to complete and publish research. Every year, we hope to be able to offer more Bell-Kagle internships.”