Training the next generation — undergrads gain valuable research experience

Tahj Morales presents his Internship project.
Credit: Photo Courtesy of Zachary Sweger, Penn State Hershey

Undergraduate students from colleges across and beyond Pennsylvania presented posters related to their summer internships at Penn State College of Medicine on Aug. 1 at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium.

The event was the culmination of a 10-week program where undergraduates worked closely with College of Medicine investigators.

For some of the students, the symposium ended their summer’s work in the laboratory. For Tahj Morales, it’s only the beginning. Morales and others like him will return to class this fall with new skills to prepare them for careers in research.

How research relates to patient care

Morales, a biochemistry and molecular biology major at Penn State Berks, searched for opportunities to apply his knowledge from the classroom to the challenges of modern medicine. He applied to the Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program at the College of Medicine, where his professor, Shannon Nowotarski, studied as a graduate student.

James Broach, who holds a doctorate in biochemistry and is the director of the Penn State Institute for Personalized Medicine and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, was Morales’ mentor this summer. Through the internship, Morales learned how research and education fit into the bigger picture of quality health care.

“I had the opportunity to shadow a clinical oncologist once a week,” Morales said. “It was a rewarding experience to see how the things I learned from the classroom could be applied in the laboratory, and ultimately to patient care.”

Set for success

The research internship offered more than increased laboratory experience. Students attended seminars that enhanced their knowledge of science and contributed to their career development. Charles Lang, associate dean for graduate studies, said these experiences help foster student interest and success in research-related careers.

“Penn State College of Medicine is fully committed to enhancing quality of life through improved health care and research,” Lang said. “These summer programs are designed to nurture and excite students’ interested in research careers and provide them with the skills necessary to pursue their passion.”

In addition to the students who completed the summer internship, laboratories at the College of Medicine hosted other undergraduate students in the American Heart Association – Undergraduate Student Fellowship and the Schreyer Honors College MD/PhD Summer Exposure Program. In total, 35 students from across the country conducted research at the College of Medicine this past summer.