Summer Research Beats Mowing Lawns

Jim Amidon —Times sure do change. Ten years ago, summers at Wabash were pretty low-key; not much was going on. But today — even though no regular classes are held — there seems to be as much activity as any other time during the year.

We have students on campus doing research with faculty. We have students involved with the Business Immersion Program. We have students involved in the Wabash Algebra Institute. And we have students working dozens of internships on campus.

Then there are the 50 or more students who are using Wabash internship finances to travel, study, and conduct research all across the country and around the world.

We’re starting to hear back from a few of them, especially our science students, who are involved in high level, cutting edge scholarship at major research institutions.

This week we heard from Steven Rhodes, a versatile chemistry major and the son of a couple of Purdue University professors. We knew early on that Steven would be a great student of the liberal arts when he won the Pre-Law Society’s Moot Court Competition, an honor usually captured by political science or rhetoric majors.

Rather than attempt to summarize the work Steven is doing this summer (as if I could), I’ll just let his words describe the unique opportunities available to Wabash students during the summer months away from campus:

“This summer, I am working in the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) / National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in Bethesda, Maryland.

“I am performing Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) studies of proteins and their interactions with biomembranes. This technique uses high magnetic fields to elucidate the physical, chemical, and structural properties of molecules.

“My goal for this summer is to study the interactions of the human peripheral cannabinoid receptor protein (CB2) within artificial biomembranes of controlled composition.”

[Jim’s translation: how the compounds in marijuana permeate or are absorbed within human cells. The CB2 protein is commercially important as a potential target of pain relief, appetite, stimulant, and glaucoma drugs; about half of all newly developed drugs target similar proteins.]

“Working in a national laboratory has been very exciting for me. The atmosphere is quite different from academia, where graduate students pursue independent projects and set their own goals and objectives. Here at the NIH, doctors and researchers work as cohesive units to tackle problems on all fronts. This feeling of being part of a larger team has been one of the greatest aspects of my summer experience. Living in the Washington, D.C. area is nice too!

“Working at the NIH/NIAAA this summer has been a wonderful opportunity for me to participate in cutting edge research in an environment that is truly at the interface of laboratory science and clinical medicine."

Another student, Trayton White, is conducting research with Wabash chemistry professor Ann Taylor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He wrote last week, too, about how Wabash has prepared him for the intense research he’s conducting there.

“Despite my lack of coursework in biochemistry or genetics, I have been using both of those fields in this new area of research. Though the summer started off shaky, it steadily got better as I learned more of the vocabulary and read more papers.

“My experience at Wabash helped prepare me for this. I am particularly thankful to my science professors for the integration of journal papers into the curriculum. Doing so allowed me to jump right into this branch of science because of my experience in the basics."

Both Steve and Trayton are excellent examples of how Wabash prepares its liberal arts students for their work after Wabash. In Steven’s case, he values the collaborative aspects of work at the National Institutes of Health. For Trayton’s summer internship, it was the ability to use what he’s learned in the classroom and apply it to new areas of study that has been most beneficial.

The opportunities now available for hundreds of Wabash students are nothing short of remarkable, and allow them to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to real world problems.

Sure beats the heck out of mowing lawns or waiting tables.