Oklahoma State University has selected 12 undergraduate students to participate in the 2011-12 Niblack Research Scholars program. Funded by a gift from OSU alumnus Dr. John Niblack, each student will receive an $8,000 scholarship and will have the unique opportunity to conduct research in a university lab, assisted by a faculty sponsor and graduate student mentor. This year six former FRS were selected for the program:
- Kelsie Brooks, microbiology, cell and molecular biology major from Norman, OK
- Kayla Davis, biochemistry and molecular biology major from Stillwater, OK
- Brandi Gallaher, physiology major from Tulsa, OK
- Mackenzie Jochim, entomology and plant pathology major from Broken Arrow, OK
- Mrinalini Patil, biochemistry and psychology major from Stillwater, OK
- Zachary Sheffert, chemical engineering major from Stillwater, OK
The purpose of the Niblack Research Scholars program is to develop undergraduate student interest in scholarly research within the various disciplines offered at OSU. The award is intended to provide students with a valuable educational experience not available to most undergraduate students.
John Niblack, OSU alumnus and founder of the Niblack research program, was the previous vice chairman of Pfizer Inc., a $32 billion pharmaceutical company that discovers and produces leading prescriptions for humans, animals and many of the world’s best-known consumer brands. Niblack said he started the research program in order to give students the opportunity to do front-of- line research versus just taking classes and researching in an artificial lab.
“I enjoy giving students the opportunity to see what real science is like, as opposed to textbook science or lab science,” Niblack said. “I hope many of them, after completing the program, will decide to become professional scientists.”
Twelve scholars are selected each year to receive an award of $2,000 per semester and $4,000 for June and July totaling $8,000 to conduct their research. Awards are credited to students’ bursar accounts pending satisfactory progress and performance throughout the year. Their graduate mentors receive a research assistantship of $2,100 during the summer research months.
Sarah Firdaus, biochemistry senior and 2010-2011 Niblack scholar, heard about the program from the arts and sciences department. The emails about current students working in the lab encouraged Firdaus to begin her own research, she said.
“Research is important because it is a way to learn about particular problems and it is a way to solve those problems,” Firdaus said. “Research is all around us.”
Scholars select a faculty sponsor and graduate mentor for assistance and encouragement. The students spend two to five hours a week working with their mentors in a hands-on laboratory throughout the school year. During the summer, a minimum of 20 hours of lab work is required each week for two months.
Connie Yearwood, an animal science senior and previous Niblack scholar, similarly found out about the Niblack Scholar Research program through OSU staff and faculty and her mentors Dr. Raluca Mateescu and Justin Buchanan.
“I quickly found out that research is a part of any job field you want to go into,” Yearwood said. “Research is what gives us direct improvement in our field of study or what I, as the researcher, am very passionate about.”
Firdaus’ research was about the lipid metabolism in a moth called Manduca Sexta. The purpose of her project was to characterize a protein called ATGL by cloning, localizing and studying it under different metabolic conditions.
“Whether a discovery is made by accident or with a focus, without research many of the things we take for granted we wouldn’t know about,” Firdaus said. “DNA is a prime example because we didn’t know the exact structure before 1952 when Watson and Crick published a paper on what they thought the structure really was.”
Jacob Stockton, a mechanical engineering senior and 2010-2011 Niblack scholar, said the best part of being a Niblack scholar is the knowledge, the experience and the research gained.
”Research provides hands-on experience that one cannot get outside of the classroom,” Stockton said. “I would encourage anyone who has any interest whatsoever to apply for the scholarship.”
Stockton’s project was on the design and evaluation of a structurally integrated vertical axis wind turbine. There have been few mechanical engineering students to participate in the Niblack research program over the past years, Stockton said, which made him even more appreciative to have been selected and to be able to pursue something he is interested in.
The Niblack program is highly competitive, Yearwood said. Students are required to study on the Stillwater campus, be enrolled full-time, have at least 28 and no more than 94 semester credit hours earned (cumulative graduation/retention) at the start of the fall semester.
Niblack applicants are evaluated based on their qualifications to conduct the project, their career ambitions, faculty recommendations and the likely educational value for the student.
“I cried when I found I won, which isn’t typical of me,” Yearwood said. “Winning the Niblack Research Scholar program award was my greatest accomplishment in my undergraduate work.”
Yearwood said she believes it was instrumental in her being accepted into OSU’s Veterinary School by the 3 + 1 program, which allows her first year of vet school to count as her fourth year of undergrad. The award also relieved the economical difficulty her family was enduring that year and gave her the opportunity to conduct her own research project, she said.
Firdaus and the other Niblack scholars agreed that they have all learned a lot from participating in the program. The program has allowed them to learn more about different research techniques, how material is presented, how to write scientific papers and with understanding about how real world researchers solve problems, Firdaus said.
“It is a long process that takes patience and persistence,” Firdaus said. “I thoroughly enjoy it.”
Firdaus wants her time as a Niblack scholar to be reflected in her work when she begins her career in research, she said. She hopes to find a job in a company dealing with cancer research and marine organisms.
“Winning the Niblack program was a huge step in my academic and professional career,” Firdaus said. “I hope it will give me an edge over my competitors when applying to grad schools.”
Yearwood said she hopes to be able to support future students and to allow them to get experience in research early in their studies.
”I certainly have learned the importance of research, and the importance of giving this opportunity to undergraduate students,” Yearwood said.
The students also agreed about their appreciation for the Niblack program and for being selected as scholars.
“Dr. Niblack provided me an opportunity that is not afforded to many,” Stockton said. “I am extremely grateful for his generosity.”
More details about the students’ research are available at http://research.okstate.edu/nrs-2011-12-scholars. The Niblack Research Scholars will make presentations about their findings during OSU Research Week, Feb. 20-24, 2012.
Official Press Releases: 10-07-2011 and 10-10-2011 (Includes Complete NRS List)