Student Researchers Start Early at Oxford

Susanna Brantley 11OX 13C (above left) confers with Assistant Professor of Biology Amanda Pendleton, while Chen Cheng 11OX 13C (below) researches biofilm growth.

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Hands-on research is an educational experience not commonly available to US undergraduates until the third or fourth year of study. At Oxford, however, two programs give freshmen and sophomores an extraordinary opportunity to learn how to do scholarly and scientific research through the direct guidance of Oxford faculty.

SURE-Oxford is an extension of the Summer Undergraduate Research at Emory (SURE) program, an initiative of Emory’s Center for Science Education. Funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Oxford’s Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement, SURE-Oxford began in 2006 under the leadership of Nitya Jacob, associate professor of biology. Each summer, a select group of Oxford students performs individual research with members of the science faculty. Together, student and professor investigate questions with a biological or biomedical emphasis.

Says Jacob, “Through the SURE-Oxford program, students work in a true partnership of scientific discovery with Oxford faculty members and make significant contributions to faculty scholarship. This program keeps Pierce Hall vibrant with activity during the summer months, engaging students and faculty alike.”

Michael Spinner 07OX 09C, a third-year medical student at Vanderbilt University, participated in SURE-Oxford in 2007. Spinner says, “The SURE program gave me the opportunity to participate in the development of a research question, project execution, data analysis, and presentation of my results in a formal symposium. . . . The knowledge and skills that I gained have prepared me well as a medical student on the path to an academic career as a physician-scientist.”

During the regular academic term, the Oxford Research Scholars Program, which is also funded by the Pierce Institute, offers the opportunity for students to pursue topics of their scholarly interest under faculty guidance. The program is overseen by associate professor of chemistry Reza Saadein. Topics are wide-ranging: a recent sampling includes Japanese internment camps during World War II, interracial adoption as an anthropological phenomenon, and testing Einstein’s diffusion theory by tracking the motion of beads inside bacterial cultures.

In both programs, Oxford undergraduates learn valuable professional leadership skills. They take ownership of a research project, work independently on it, and learn to communicate to a larger scholarly community. These students go on to their junior and senior years on the Atlanta campus with important insight into their field of study. Many students have presented posters at national and regional meetings and have even published papers of their work. The SURE program provides exceptional preparation for these young students not only to broaden their knowledge, but also to make important contributions to scientific research and scholarship.

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