Univ of Arkansas Honors College: Mentoring Leads to Publication

Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Kendall Curlee, Director of Communications for the University of Arkansas Honors College, for assistance with this post.

One of the major strengths of honors colleges and programs is that they make undergraduate research opportunities a priority. Increasingly, early contact with distinguished professors is yielding not only better chances for entry to graduate and professional schools but also success with publication in prestigious academic journals.

At the University of Arkansas Honors College, Dr. Roger E. Koeppe II, a distinguished professor of chemistry, has now collaborated with several present and former honors college students on research projects that have led to publication.

His mentoring has been so successful that some of the students have themselves collaborated on more than one published paper.

Research That Could Lead Help the Fight with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease

“A University of Arkansas research team shed new light on the molecular properties that drive the nervous system. Their work was recently published in Biochemistry, one of the top journals in the field. Kelsey Sparks, an alumna of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and the Honors College, who is currently pursuing a medical degree at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, led the research effort as an undergraduate, working for three years on what became her capstone honors thesis.

“Sparks is the first author on the article, giving her primary credit for the discoveries. Other undergraduate coauthors were Fulbright and Honors College alumna and Sturgis Fellow Rebekah Langston, who currently holds a research position at the National Institutes of Health, and Renatra Gist, an alumna of Tennessee State University who completed a summer National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates at the U of A.

“Several of their findings were surprising: for example, some of the amino acids that could form hydrogen bonds with membrane lipids caused their host helices to move faster than their non-hydrogen bonding counterparts.

“You would think that hydrogen bonds would slow things down, since water is slower than gas,” Koeppe said. The team also discovered that peptide rotations are sensitive to changes in the thickness of membranes. The paper contributes to knowledge of the molecular properties that allow the nervous system to work, and ultimately could contribute to the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

“We’re working at the first level – the physics of it,” Koeppe cautioned. “We’re not developing medical products, but we’re trying to improve the basic understanding. The remarkable thing is that these undergraduate students were making discoveries in such a complex area. They’re at the forefront in this field.”

And More Work in a Related Area…

“A University of Arkansas research team has published a paper in ChemBioChem, a top European journal of chemical biology, based on groundbreaking experiments led by undergraduate honors student Armin Mortazavi. The paper contributes to the understanding of the molecular properties of membrane proteins, which play critical roles in cell signaling, both for diseased states and basic biological functions.

“It could be useful in understanding how proteins aggregate, which is characteristic of some neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s – but that’s long down the line at this point,” Mortazavi said. “Our main purpose is to understand how they interact in the body.”

“Mortazavi, from Hot Springs, is an honors chemistry and physics double major, a Bodenhamer Fellow, and the recipient of the Goldwater Scholarship. He is listed as first author on the article, giving him primary credit for performing the experiments that led to the discoveries.

“Mortazavi’s research builds on earlier work by honors student Kelsey Sparks, who studied the role aromatic rings play in the movement of the same family of peptides. Sparks was the first author on a paper published in 2014 in Biochemistry and is a coauthor on this paper.”

The Work to Understand Neurodegenerative Diseases Continues….

Jordana Thibado‘s honors research in Roger Koeppe’s lab began in her freshman year, and has paid off with her publication as first author in Biochemistry, one of the leading journals in its field.

Thibado’s paper, “Influence of High pH and Cholesterol on Single Arginine-Containing Transmembrane Peptide Helices,” shares two findings that contribute to the understanding of cell membrane properties, and in the long term, could inform treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Thibado is now pursuing a doctoral degree in physiology, biophysics and systems biology at Weill Medical College, Cornell University’s medical campus in New York City. In addition to Koeppe, a Distinguished Professor of chemistry and biochemistry in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, coauthors include U of A doctoral student Ashley Martfeld and research associate professor Denise Greathouse.

“Upon completion of her doctorate, Thibado hopes to find a faculty position in biophysics or biochemistry and launch her own lab. Publishing research in Biochemistry will help her advance that goal: “It definitely felt great, especially after putting in four years of work, to see the research culminate in publication,” she said.

Mitchell Scholars 2018: Prestige, Support for Recipients…and Applicants

Editor’s Note: The following information comes from the U.S.-Ireland Alliance, sponsors of the prestigious Mitchell Scholarship.We applaud the program’s support for both applicants and winners of the award.

November 19, 2016–The US-Ireland Alliance selected the 12 members of the 2018 Class of George J. Mitchell Scholars following interviews held Washington, D.C.

Members of the class include a military veteran; a young man working for the City of Flint; a young woman working to combat food insecurity in Kansas; a quarterback for an NCAA Division 1 football team; a future doctor who seeks to provide quality healthcare services to transgender people; and a future economist who serves as a research assistant in the White House Office the National Drug Control Policy.

The selection committee includes Frank Bruni, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist and the author of three bestselling books, including Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania. One of his columns, “A Prudent College Path,” presented a very positive view of public university honors programs. The Mitchell program is very interested in applicants from honors students.

The scholarship program was created nearly 20 years ago by Trina Vargo, founder of the US-Ireland Alliance. This year, the nationwide competition attracted 323 applicants (up 14% from the previous year) for the 12 scholarships named in honor of the former Maine Senator’s contributions to the Northern Ireland peace process. Recipients are chosen on the basis of academic distinction, leadership and service and spend a year of post-graduate study at institutions of higher learning in Ireland.

Carolina Chavez, the new Director of the Mitchell Scholarship Program, worked previously for ten years on the Fulbright program at the Department of State. Chavez noted that in all of her experience, “I can tell you that the Mitchell Scholar network is exceptionally strong. Our alumni are involved and important to each other, to the Program, and to Ireland.”

Current sponsor of the Mitchell Scholarship program include Ireland’s Department of Education and Skills, Morgan Stanley, CRH and the American Ireland Fund.

“There are numerous applicants who are incredibly talented,” Ms. Vargo said. “While we can’t offer them all a scholarship, we recognize the major effort entailed in simply applying, and we wanted to find ways to help increase their opportunities….This year, we have initiated a process whereby the resumes of applicants may be shared with our major sponsors. This is a win-win given that recruitment of top talent is a priority for many companies.”

Those selected today will begin their studies in Ireland in September 2017.

George J. Mitchell Scholarship, Class of 2018

Joel Arnold graduated from Michigan State University with a double major in Social Relations/Policy and Urban and Regional Planning. A native of Flint, Michigan, Joel is currently a Blight Management Analyst for the City of Flint and administers the Love Your Block Program, which provides residents and local organizations with no-cost resources to perform major beautification efforts….He will study Urban Policy Stream at University College Dublin.

Margaret Born is a senior at Michigan State University, double majoring in Arabic and Comparative Cultures and Politics. Born to American aid workers in South Africa, Margaret grew up in Mozambique and moved to Wyoming for high school. Interested in issues of diversity and inclusion, she founded Project Nur at MSU in 2013, a student-led organization focused on combating Islamophobia on campus….Margaret aspires to work on international refugee policy and she will study International Development, Environment, and Conflict at Dublin City University.

Theodore L. Caputi is a senior majoring in Mathematics and Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. Interested in the factors that contribute to drug and alcohol addiction since high school, Theodore is currently a White House research assistant in the Office of National Drug Control Policy where he conducts analysis of the nation’s drug prevention and treatment strategies. Theodore has published several papers in peer-reviewed journals…. He will study Public Health Promotion at University College Cork.

Donovan Hicks is a recent graduate of Wofford College where he double majored in Government and Finance. A native of South Carolina, Donovan became attuned to the inequities in his community at an early age. As a college freshman, he began a long-term internship with South Carolina Legal Services, providing legal assistance to persons well below the poverty line…. He will study Race, Ethnicity, and Conflict at Trinity College Dublin.

Meghan Hind is a senior at Harvard majoring in Neurobiology. Her interests lie in the brain circuitry behind decision-making and how beliefs and behaviors affect the decision-making process. She has organized and executed several wellness programs for her Harvard classmates, most recently serving as the Director of Workshops for LifeHack Improvitas, which brought prominent figures to campus to discuss self-improvement… She will study Values and Knowledge at the National University of Ireland, Galway.

Peter Kiernan is a senior majoring in Political Science at Columbia University. Raised on Long Island, Pete joined the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after high school and became the youngest Marine to serve in the elite Special Operations Command in Afghanistan. After six years of service, Pete enrolled at Columbia where he founded the Ivy League Veterans Council, a not-for-profit dedicated to provide veterans equal access to top colleges and universities….He will study Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation at Trinity College Dublin.

Miranda Klugesherz obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology/Communication Studies from Hastings College and is currently a Master’s degree student in Communications Studies at Kansas State University. Concerned with food insecurity for much of her life, she currently serves as the Chair of the Junction City Food Policy Council, which advises the City Commission on matters related to the local food system…. She will study Social Policy at University College Cork.

Elizabeth (Ellie) Sell is a senior Chemistry student at Princeton University and an Emergency Medical Technician with the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad. As a research assistant at Children’s National Medical Center, Ellie used data from a trauma registry and GIS mapping to identify neighborhoods where certain types of injuries were more prevalent, giving her fellow health educators information to better hone their outreach efforts….An aspiring physician, she will study Gender, Sexuality and Culture at University College Dublin.

Lacey Smith is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she majored Health and Human Sciences.  A native of the Los Angeles area, Lacey is currently working in Haiti as a Global Health Fellow with Medical Missionaries, a US-based volunteer organization….She will study Immunology and Global Health at Maynooth University.

Tyler Swafford is a senior at Eastern Kentucky University majoring in Globalization and International Affairs. He is the starting quarterback of the Division I EKU football team and serves on the EKU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee as the liaison between the team and the EKU administration. He has twice received the Ohio Valley Conference Academic Medal of Honor for having the highest GPA (4.0) on the football team…. An aspiring human rights attorney, he will study Geopolitics and Global Economy at University College Dublin.

May Treuhaft-Ali is a senior at Wesleyan University majoring in Theater Studies. With a belief that theater has the power to question and deconstruct systems of power, May has written and directed plays for Wesleyan’s Theater Department and Second Stage. Her plays were selected twice by the LA-based Blank Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights Festival, a national competition for young writers…. She will study Theatre and Performance at Trinity College Dublin.

Kathleen White is a graduate of Manhattan College and holds a degree in History and Peace Studies. A social justice advocate, Kathleen joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after college and served as Outreach Coordinator for the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth where she worked on abolishing juvenile life without parole….Kathleen will study Sociology at University College College Cork.

Rhodes Scholars 2017: Ivies Down a Bit, UVA Has Two

The Rhodes Scholarships continue to be awarded mainly to students from private colleges and universities, but the latest group of 32 students does include “only” 10 from Ivy League universities. Public universities with 2017 scholars are Virginia (2), Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, and UT Austin, for a total of seven.

The new list of Rhodes Scholars (awarded in November 2016 for the year 2017) includes four from Harvard, far and away the cumulative leader among all schools; one from Princeton, two from Yale, and one each from Dartmouth and Cornell. In the previous two years, the Ivy League had 14 of the 32 awards won by American students. In 2013 there were 16.

The University of  Virginia has now had six Rhodes Scholars since 2013.  UVA and North Carolina at Chapel Hill are the leaders among all state universities in the number of Rhodes Scholars earned by their graduates. UVA has 53 Rhodes Scholars, and UNC Chapel Hill has 49.

The University of Georgia, with another Rhodes winner this year for a total of 24, is notable for having almost all of its many prestigious award winners being members or graduates of the honors program.

Montana State University, despite its relatively small size, now has 11 Rhodes Scholars this year to go with an extremely high number of Goldwater Scholars.

The University of Texas at Austin now has 31 Rhodes Scholars.

Once again, the service academies are well-represented: both the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point had Rhodes winners.

Black Hills State University: An Honors Program with International Opportunities

Editor’s Note: The following post is one in a series written by honors professionals across the country.

By Dr. Courtney Huse Wika, assistant professor of English and director of the Black Hills State University Honors Program

The gold rush and the old west aren’t the only gems of the historic Black Hills of South Dakota. Students looking for an Honors Program with unique academic engagement, opportunities for international travel, and a powerful social support network, should take a look at Black Hills State University.

The University Honors Program at Black Hills State University is designed to provide the University’s top students with the support and individualized instruction they need to pursue their highest academic and professional goals. Located in the scenic Black Hills of Spearfish and Rapid City, S.D., the University Honors Program at BHSU adds to the already tremendous value of a Black Hills State University education.

Here are seven significant advantages of the University Honors Program:

1. Unique Coursework: The goal of the Honors curriculum is to provide students with a well-rounded education and, at the same time, to give them a chance to follow their own academic, professional or creative interests. Depending on the degree program, there are two tracks for the University Honors Program: Bachelor’s and Associate. Faculty create one-of-a-kind courses that promote academic excellence and the free exchange of ideas, academic scholarship and research, and experiential learning.

2. Faculty Mentors: From their first semester on campus, students work closely with professors across campus and specifically in their chosen field(s) of study. Traditionally, Honors classes remain small to promote individualized instruction and foster the student-faculty mentor relationship.

3. Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship: Each Honors course promotes academic engagement and research, and Honors students are a majority presence at The Black Hills Research Symposium and presenters for BHSU at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR), the annual national research conference. As a final opportunity to direct their own research, creative activity, service project, or study abroad experience, students complete and publicly defend a capstone project under the mentorship of their capstone committee composed of esteemed BHSU faculty. The capstone project often serves as material for application to graduate schools, school districts, and in the professional world.

4. Opportunities for International Travel: The University Honors Program partners with the Office of International Studies and Global Engagement to offer tailored international experiences for interested students, such as study abroad, faculty-led colloquia, teaching abroad, and international service-learning trips. Students who complete the University Honors program with a meaningful international experience have the the distinction of graduating as an International University Scholar.

5. Honors Colloquia: Designed as intensive seminars, these courses are unique to the University Honors Program. They are mid-level courses that assume no prior background in the area but that emphasize scholarly reading, writing, and research. Colloquia topics have included “Molecules that Changed History,” “Harry Potter and the Politics of Power,” “Ethics and Leadership in Popular Science Fiction,” and a service-learning course with a 10-day stay in the Philippines.

6. Home Away from Home: University Honors students enjoy a built-in social and academic community through frequent social events, “stocials” (study socials), community service projects, and Thursday afternoon Geek Speak lectures from esteemed faculty. The program also hosts its own student group, the Honors Club, which organizes campus and community events and activities like blood drives, volunteer afternoons at the no-kill animal shelter, and the BHSU Pantry for students and student families in need. University Honors students also enjoy a private Honors Center in historic Woodburn Hall.

7. University Scholar Transcript Designations: Students who successfully complete the University Honors Program requirements will receive the academic distinction of “University Scholar” on their official academic transcript. This designation indicates to employers and graduate program committees that the applicant’s academic achievement is higher than most graduates.

Students at BHSU are surrounded by picturesque vistas on campus with nearby hiking and biking trails for the perfect study break. Challenging and engaging academics inspire profound research and international experiences which are at the core of the BHSU University Honors Program.