Federal grant gets NIC students involved in innovative biomedical research
What is “Anti E. Coli O157 Ab Specificity: wt O157:H7 86-24 Vs. F12 Mutant and Yersinia Enterocolitica?”
To North Idaho College student Luke Carter it’s a dream come true.
Because of NIC’s participation in the Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), Carter of Coeur d’Alene is working on innovative biomedical research as part of an internship through Biosensors and Nanotechnology Applications Laboratory at the University of Idaho Research Park in Post Falls.
Instead of flipping burgers at a local fast food restaurant while working toward an associate’s degree in premedicine at NIC, Carter is researching a faster and more efficient method of detection for screening food products for the Enterohemorrhagic strain of E. coli.
“I can’t emphasize enough how much this whole summer has changed my perspective on research and on my own potential,” Carter said, referring to his internship. “I think that one of the best decisions I have made during my time so far at NIC was to take Rhena Cooper’s microbiology class. Otherwise if I would have asked for an internship, she probably would have showed me the door considering I would not have known the difference between Escherichia coli and enteric colitis.”
In November 2001, the University of Idaho received a three-year, $6 million award from the National Institutes of Health to create a statewide biomedical research network between the three largest Idaho universities. Three years later, INBRE was initiated with a $16.1 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health designed to expand the original network and enhance opportunities for faculty and students at the other colleges and universities throughout the state. This included the Idaho’s two community colleges, North Idaho College and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, which each received about $55,000 per year for five years.
NIC Microbiology Instructor and Coordinator of the INBRE program at NIC Rhena Cooper admits that even though the $55,000 carrot dangling in front of their faces was tempting, both Idaho community colleges were hesitant to get involved with the program at first.
“We were just a little leery because as community colleges, our focus is on instruction and the students and not on some big, expensive research project,” Cooper said. “But that’s when we realized that through an internship program, our students who would normally gain 45 bench hours of lab experience in a class would be gaining 400 bench hours of experience in actual working laboratories. That experience in research was what it was all about.”
In 2004, NIC established an internship program with INBRE funds. Cooper and other NIC natural sciences faculty help identify students with aptitude and interest and match them with working labs throughout the community. The labs receive a stipend for mentoring an intern and the grant money also pays for the students’ salaries, which currently start at $10 per hour, a competitive wage in the region and more than $3 more than the minimum wage offered at most fast food restaurants.
Last year, 10 students majoring in sciences at NIC participated in working internships at laboratories in such organizations as the Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research, Kootenai Medical Center and Coeur d’Alene Wine Cellars.
NIC chemistry student Veronica Hendricks of St. Maries worked with Accurate Testing Labs to compare filters for extracting oil and grease in waste water samples to determine the best method for extraction. Her research helped yield a method of extraction that uses a vacuum to pull the sample through the filter, which has an absorbent layer to attract and hold the oil and grease that is eventually evaporated off.
“These really are innovative research projects that could be put to use not only in biomedical fields, but in our everyday lives,” Cooper said.
In addition to NIC’s application of INBRE funds, the program also supports several
scholar and fellowship programs. Faculty who are involved are eligible for short sabbaticals for course development and paid conference fees through the program and the colleges and universities throughout the state now have a network of colleagues to utilize as resources.
But Cooper believes the most important outcome of the program is the relationships established between the college and private laboratories that now look to NIC for not only interns, but future employees as well. Some of the private businesses are so impressed with the quality of students at NIC that they have chosen to invest in them by establishing scholarship funds through the NIC Foundation.
The bonds forged between the college and the labs are partnerships in that each side benefits. In addition to the rewards NIC and its students are reaping, the labs involved in NIC’s INBRE program also benefit by having the fresh perspective of enthusiastic students helping with research in the lab. Some NIC instructors have even implemented changes in their curriculum to make their instruction more applicable to the real world, therefore better preparing students for work in the industry.
Although Cooper knows that the federal grant money that supports the INBRE program is temporary and will eventually cease, she believes that those key relationships between NIC and professionals in the biomedical field will exist forever.
“We’re proud of what we’ve done with this money—this money went to students,” Cooper said. “Instead of going out and buying equipment to do research with, we found existing laboratories in the community where research was already taking place and utilized those opportunities so we could support our students instead.
“Our outcome wasn’t a piece of expensive equipment that will someday become outdated and need to be replaced. Our investment was in students that will become the next generation of cutting-edge biomedical professionals and go on to increase the health and efficiencies of our community. That is endless.”
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NIC Microbiology Instructor Rhena Cooper, (208) 769-3476Posted: Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2006