Five Berks students receive 2017 Erickson Discovery Grants

Berks has highest number of student awards outside University Park

READING, Pa. -- This year, five students at Penn State Berks received the University’s Erickson Discovery Grant for summer 2017 through the Office of Undergraduate Education. The campus had the highest number of recipients of any location outside University Park.

At Penn State, an increasing number of students are forgoing their usual summer routines and participating in research in the field, lab, or studio. For some, this means staying close to campus while others travel thousands of miles away to research topics in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities and arts fields.

Among the 219 students who applied, 83 from across Penn State’s campuses will each be awarded a $3,500 Erickson Discovery Grant. This is a record number of both applicants and awardees. The students will use the funds to immerse themselves in original research, scholarship, and creative work under the direct supervision of a faculty member. 

“The Erickson Discovery Grant program allows students to fully engage with a research question over the summer and direct their own hands-on discovery process in a subject that interests them,” said Alan Rieck, assistant vice president and assistant dean for Undergraduate Education, who administers the program. “This type of inquiry is extremely beneficial to students, allowing them to develop critical-thinking skills, explore career choices, and be a part of the process of discovery."

The Penn State Berks student awardees include:

— Austin Fruin, "The Role of Chmp1 in Polyamine Transport and Metabolism"
Fruin, a junior majoring in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, will study the functions of polyamines–small molecules that are important for many cellular processes. Since elevated levels of polyamines have been associated with a number of cancers, understanding the metabolism and transport of these molecules may help in understanding cancer pathogenesis. He and his adviser are taking a genetic approach where they will alter genes they predict will be important for polyamine function using the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as their model system.

— Jason Lehrer, "The Development of a Sustainable Technology for 3D Printing"
Lehrer, a senior Mechanical Engineering major, is conducting research in the development of a more sustainable method for 3D printing by using recyclable plastic containers. The focus will be to develop a process in order to turn plastic water bottles into the source material for 3D printing, and to evaluate the properties of the printed parts. If proven successful, this research may support to future studies in the conversion of other recyclable containers into 3D printer filament.

— Sarah Lorish, "Under Fire"
Lorish, a junior majoring in Professional Writing, will be working to complete a memoir that she has been writing since 2012. Set in the Outer Banks, where she and her family vacationed every year until she was 17-years-old, the memoir discusses what she learned about the roles of love, loss, and relationships as she ultimately came to realize the parallel between her family's mission to own a home in the vacation area and her own fruitless search for fulfillment through gymnastics and boy-chasing. 

— Jonathan Mercier, "Examining Parathyroid Hormone Related Protein as a Negative Regulator of Alcohol’s Effects in the MCF-7 Cancer Cell Line"
Mercier, a junior Kinesiology major, along with Cadie Dunlap, sophomore Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major, will be studying the link between alcohol, estrogen, and breast cancer in women. More specifically, they will be performing experiments that are aimed at elucidating how alcohol and estrogen effect the growth of mammary gland cells in culture.

— Zachary Weagly, "Comparative Analysis of the Chemical Composition and Microbial Population in the Tulpehocken Creek"
Weagly, a sophomore Biology major, plans to analyze the Tulpehocken Creek to determine the concentration of microbial organisms residing at different depths, as well as the chemical profile to gauge to overall health of the waterway. The main focus will be on possible pathogenic organisms that could impact the fish taken legally from the creek and consumed. According to Weagly, “The need to maintain healthy waterways along with the conservation of our water tables is paramount to the overall survival of our species.” 

The Research Opportunities for Undergraduates program is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at