Inside USD

Transition to College PURE Joy for Science Students

Friday, August 13, 2010

Transitioning from high school is a rite of passage for all college freshmen. For seven incoming science students at the University of San Diego — Michael Bagley, Shimmyram Gabbara, Paul Nguyen, Luis Retana, Marissa Reyes, Raymond Sullivan and Yajaira Nuñez — participation in USD’s Pre-Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) program this summer has given them a slight edge in the adjustment process when fall classes begin September 1.

Initiated by USD science faculty, PURE is an effort to increase interest, retention and achievement of underrepresented students through their active involvement in a scientific research project. High school students set to be USD freshmen in the fall apply to spend the summer prior assisting with laboratory research. PURE, which is supported by grants from the Beckman Coulter Foundation and Carrie Estelle Doheny Foundation, enables selected students to meet other students, participate in fun activities away from the lab such as a Padres-Dodgers baseball game (pictured, at right), find their way around campus, and meet, work and learn from a USD faculty member.

“I was ecstatic to get a head start into the college environment,” said Bagley, who spent his summer doing biochemistry research with USD assistant professor Bob Dutnall. “In the few months before I graduated (high school), I already felt like a college student and I wanted to jump into college life. When I was accepted into the PURE program, I couldn’t wait to meet fellow college students and get to know a few professors.”

Three of the seven students — the most participants USD has had since implementing PURE — are linked to the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (Bagley, Gabbara and Sullivan). There is one representative each for biology (Nguyen), computer science (Retana), physics (Reyes) and marine science (Nuñez). Most PURE students are paired with a current USD student involved with the SURE (Student Undergraduate Research Experience) and together they assist a faculty member with research.

“Being in the PURE program has been a huge advantage,” said Nguyen, who is working with biology professor Hugh Ellis with his research study of metabolic intensity of an Eared Grebe, a unique diving water bird. Nguyen also connected with USD junior Sylvester Luu, biology major, in the lab and away from it. “He knows the ins and outs of the university and he recommended some clubs I might consider joining in the fall.”

To Retana, who has been gaining experience with a project that involves the use of data mining techniques while working with Eric Jiang, a computer science and mathematics associate professor, admitted to some nervousness when he started in June.

“I was kind of nervous because I thought of (the transition to college) as moving up to the big leagues,” he said. The research project, however, has helped. “It has been a great experience and it gives me a peek into what a job in the computer science area might be like. It’s also been fun working with and getting to know my future Computer Science 151 professor (Jiang).”

Gabbara said one of the best aspects of the PURE program was knowing a new experience awaited her. “I was elated when I got the e-mail that I was accepted simply because I got the chance to try something completely foreign to me. The research experience during these past several weeks has been priceless.”

Her project involves increasing the solubility of expressed histones, a type of protein, as well as learning about molecular cloning techniques and how to properly use lab equipment. Long hours in the lab, as much as six to eight hours a day, was also part of the program, but even then Gabbara wasn’t complaining. It merely prepares her for her first lab class as a USD student.

“I definitely feel more confident now about taking on my four-hour chemistry lab class.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

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