Sixteen students in the Natural Sciences Department at Del Mar College spent ten weeks this summer working as research interns in such diverse areas as DNA repair and its role in the fight against various cancers and analysis of avocado lipids (energy storage molecules). Some even researched medically important toxins found in snake venom.
Four Natural Sciences majors worked in various aspects of DNA repair at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) in Berkeley, Ca. Other students like Aaron Beach conducted research closer to home. He interned at the National Natural Toxins Research Center at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and compared a recombinant snake venom toxin with its native variety found in the North American prairie rattlesnake.
In all cases, DMC faculty members note that the students were performing graduate-level work. Del Mar College is one of Texas’ 50 community colleges.
DMC biotechnology graduate Luke Pruter was another student who didn’t have to travel very far for his internship either. Following the completion of his associate in art degree and certificate at Del Mar in May, Pruter began an internship under Dr. Michael Brewer at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension Center near Robstown, Tx. He continues to analyze agricultural crop patterns using computer-based spatial tools to study the effects of pest damage, a project that will last through this fall semester.
Pruter is one of 10 students whose internship was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Program: STEP UP to USDA Career Success.
Del Mar College is a collaborating partner with Texas A&M University-Kingsville on the STEP UP grant. Dr. Jonda Halcomb, DMC dean of Arts and Sciences, worked with project director Dr. Shad Nelson, associate professor of horticulture and chair of the Agriculture, Agribusiness and Environmental Sciences Department at TAMU-K, to write the grant.
In addition to STEP UP, some of the interns received funding support from the USDA’s Hispanic-Serving Institutions Education Grants Program through the South Texas Educational Liaison of Laboratories for Agricultural Research (STELLAR) grant. First acquired in 2007 as a result of a proposal by Dr. Halcomb and Dr. Robert Hatherill, DMC associate professor of biology, STELLAR’s primary goal is to increase the number of students earning degrees in agricultural science as well as improve recruitment and retention of under-represented students.
Recently, the DMC Natural Sciences Department hosted their 7th Annual Student Poster Session to showcase each student’s respective research project. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff crowded Garcia Science Building foyer to hear students talk about their various research projects.
Of the 16 student interns, five students were offered opportunities for part-time employment at their respective labs, including Desirey Flores, Molly Robertson and Clayton Speed at LBNL; Joseph Marin at Incell Corp., a biopharmaceutical firm in San Antonio; and Pruter at the Texas A&M Agrilife Research and Extension Center. Damien Seay was offered a full-time position with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Arid-Land Agricultural Research Center in Arizona.
Flores, Seay, Beach and MD Anderson Cancer Center intern Carlos Ramos will have their work published in peer-reviewed journals, says Dr. Daisy Zhang, DMC assistant professor of biotechnology.
Funds for the four internships focused on DNA repair at the Berkeley Lab came from the South Texas Undergraduate Curriculum Consortium for Educating Biotechnical Science Students (SUCCESS) supported by a National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education grant.
The SUCCESS program is a collaborative project among the College’s Natural Sciences Department and the Science & Technology Division at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, the University of Houston, Corpus Christi Industry Partners and the Life Sciences Division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
The SUCCESS program also provided funding support for John Golaszewski’s internship at Diagnostic BioSystems, Inc., a California biotechnology firm, and Marin’s internship at Incell.
“The fact that several students were offered job opportunities speaks volumes about the training Dr. Zhang is providing here at Del Mar College,” says colleague Dr. Hatherill. “One student who went with me to LBNL was generating data after just two weeks. These students are well trained thanks to Dr. Zhang’s hands-on lab sessions.”