Dona Occhipinti ’14 is currently in Utica, N.Y., participating in the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory’s Summer Fellowship Program, a 10-week program. She was highlighted in an article in the Observer Dispatch about this being the program’s 50th anniversary. The article explains:
“For years, the program has been looking to the future, teaching college students like this year’s 11 participants about cutting-edge medical research, and training the next generation of scientists.”
In discussing Occhipinti, it notes: “Only a few weeks into the 10-week fellowship, Occhipinti, a rising sophomore at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, seemed confident as she discussed the genetic research she’s conducting. She threw around terms such as ‘sodium channels,’ ‘preliminary chain reactions,’ ‘DNA extraction’ and ‘nucleotides’ as if she were a seasoned professional.”
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came here. I really, really enjoy what I’m doing. It was a good surprise,” Occhipininti says.
More information about the program and Occhipinti’s experience this summer are included in the full article, below.
Masonic lab program has been training researchers for 50 years
Amy Neff Roth • July 04, 2011
College student Dona Occhipinti, of Rome, is spending her summer searching for a needle in a genetic haystack – mutations responsible for cardiac arrhythmias.
Occhipinti’s search is part of the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory’s Summer Fellowship Program. For years, the program has been looking to the future, teaching college students like this year’s 11 participants about cutting-edge medical research, and training the next generation of scientists. But this year, the program also is looking to the past as it celebrates a milestone – its 50th anniversary.
For fellows, this now historic program provides an opportunity to work in an award-winning facility known for its groundbreaking research on the treatment and prevention of cardiac diseases such as the irregular heart rhythms known as arrhythmias.
They get to see classroom lessons applied in a laboratory, determine whether they enjoy research, possibly get their name published on a journal article and build up their resumes for medical or graduate school.
For the researchers who mentor them, it’s a way to interest students in science and fuel the breakthrough discoveries of tomorrow.
“I consider that we have a responsibility to motivate students to pursue a career in the live sciences, whether it be in research, whether it be in medicine,” said Charles Antzelevitch, the Utica lab’s executive director and director of research.
The goal is to help bright students pursue careers related to medicine, he said.
And it appears to be working.
Many of the program’s more than 300 alumni have ended up in related careers: doctors, medical researchers, a physician assistant, a veterinarian and a dentist, for example.
‘Keep the new discoveries coming’
Only a few weeks into the 10-week fellowship, Occhipinti, a rising sophomore at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, seemed confident as she discussed the genetic research she’s conducting. She threw around terms such as “sodium channels,” “preliminary chain reactions,” “DNA extraction” and “nucleotides” as if she were a seasoned professional.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came here,” Occhipinti said. “I really, really enjoy what I’m doing. It was a good surprise.”
Now the biology major who had planned a career in surgery is at least considering other options, she said. She may decide to get both a medical degree and a doctorate so she can do more basic research.
But working in the medical field is still a definite for the student who’s always had a natural gift for science. Medicine provides a way to use that talent to help people, she said.
“To say that you change lives on a daily basis is a remarkable thing,” she said.
Occhipinti found out about the fellowship program about six years ago, long before she started college, when one of the fellows presented a summary talk on his research at a SUNYIT science and math camp she attended. He told the kids to keep Masonic in mind when they were older and Occhipinti did.
Now she – along with the other fellows – will be presenting her own oral research summary on July 28, at the end of the 10-week fellowship. The talks, given in a scientific format, will explain their hypotheses, research methods, results and conclusions, said Jonathan Cordeiro, the Masonic laboratory’s education officer and a research scientist in electrophysiology.
Cordeiro said he also tries to get his students published in a scientific journal, whether as a short abstract or, if they’re successful enough, as a full-length paper. Two students from a few years ago just had an article accepted into the American Journal of Physiology, he said.
Being published is a major accomplishment for an undergraduate, and a positive addition to a resumé.
“You need something to sort of distance yourself from the other applicants coming into medical school,” Cordeiro said.
Ryan Pfeiffer, supervisor of genetic screening at the laboratory, said having the fellows at the lab is a positive for the researchers as well.
“It’s fun for everybody. You’re teaching them to troubleshoot the problems you encounter in research. And working side by side and training someone keeps things interesting for us as well,” he said.
But the larger mission, he said, is “creating the scientist of the future, getting people interested … to keep the new discoveries coming and move science forward.”
Copyright 2011 The Observer-Dispatch, Utica, New York. Some rights reserved