Emi Hitomi Selected as Student Employee of the Year

University Communications – University of Rochester senior Emi Hitomi has been selected as the 2013-2014 University of Rochester Student Employee of the Year. The award, which is given annually by the Financial Aid Office, recognizes an outstanding student employee who has made valuable contributions to the department in which he or she works. Hitomi, a building manager supervisor for Wilson Commons, was nominated by Michael Dedes, Wilson Commons services coordinator.

Hitomi, a neuroscience major, got her start as a Hive Game Room employee her freshman year, and quickly worked her way up the ranks to serve as a building manager for two years, learning the policies and procedures of Wilson Commons. “Because there’s always so much going on in Wilson Commons, not much our job is written in our job description,” says Hitomi. “We are the go-to people for all student employee-run stations (the Common Market, the Hive, Common Connection, and the Hartnett Art Gallery) after hours when all the professional staff has left.”

Hitomi was a natural choice for the role of building manager supervisor her senior year, due to her dedication and reliability as a building manager. “Emi is a one of those rare individuals who truly cares about everyone she comes in contact with. There are no smoke or mirrors with Emi, she is as true as they come,” says Dedes. “She supports all her staff members, even those that can be difficult to deal with, and ensures that everyone has all the resources to be successful.”

CeremonyDuring her time at Wilson Commons last semester, Hitomi helped ensure that a new initiative to keep Wilson Commons open for 24 hours during finals week, to provide additional study spaces to students, ran smoothly. “We have a new late-night programming group that works hard to come up with ideas to provide students with a place to study, relax or have fun late at night,” says Hitomi. While asking her fellow building managers to work extended hours with her was difficult, Hitomi handled it excellently by emphasizing the importance it would have to the student body. In addition to study spaces, Hitomi also worked with her staff to ensure that the exercise areas, movie screenings, and late-night food options for students offered by the event had the resources and space they needed. The event was a huge success with more than 140 students attending. “Emi is one of those student employees who understands the mission of a student union and the role it plays on the college campus. She understands the bigger picture concepts and tries her best to translate that to those she works with so everyone is adding to the common goal,” remarked Dedes.

One of the most valuable parts of her job, Hitomi says, is interacting with people. “As an employee of WCSA, I have met and worked alongside a lot of the staff and faculty that are involved in student activities across campus. Through them I have learned a lot about campus events and student organizations.”

Although, Hitomi’s job is not without its challenges. “There was one time, it was a week or two before Meliora Weekend and we had only three boxes of chocolate covered pretzels left. We were all panicking and trying to rush order more. Fortunately we got an order of them in time to be fully stocked.”

After graduation, Hitomi will be working for the next year as a lab technician in Dr. Nedergaard’s lab at the University Rochester Medical Center.

Emi and SupervisorNational Student Employment Week is an annual week sponsored by the National Student Employment Association which seeks to recognize Student Employees at College Campuses across the Nation. In addition to an award ceremony for the Student Employee of the Year, here at the University of Rochester individual departments find their own creative ways to celebrate their dedicated student employees. The Financial Aid Office, for example, hosts a number of events for their employees during the week, hosting a celebration lunch and a scavenger hunt as well as creating photo bios for each of their employees. Here at University Communications, the office celebrated its student interns with a pizza party and a giant cake!

The following 16 students were also nominated for the award this year:
Zachary Brumberger ’14 – Biochemistry
Sara Leung ’14 – Mathematics
Patrick Hennessey ’14 – English
Liv Earle T5 ’14 – Comparative Lit.
Alex Montes ’16 – History
Lily Martyn ’14 – Epidemiology
Ana Garcia ’14 KEY – International Relations
Keishla Zayas ’15 – English
Marcia des Jardin ’15 – Molecular Genetics
Alex Teghipco ’14 – Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Sarah Winstein-Hibbs ’14 – English
Claire Wyman ’14 – Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Emily Fitzgerald ’16 – Microbiology
Margaret Speer ’15 – English
Rachel Taylor ’15 – Microbiology
Ted Teumer ’14 -Computer Science



Students Present Their “Wicked Smaht” Research

This January, seniors Yanhan Ren, Sarah Joseph, and Nirlipta Panda, along with junior Harris Weber traveled to Boston to attend the National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC). The Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association began this conference in 2007 to provide a platform for undergrads to share their research.

While the main event was the poster session, the Innovation Challenge brought groups of students from different backgrounds together to discuss radical ideas and potential solutions to national and global issues. “Getting to know other students created endless possibilities of collaboration,” said Ren, a liason for future NCRC events. Every event promoted the sharing of ideas and collaboration with a variety of people, both things that U of R loves its students to do!

Ren is an international student from Nanjing, China studying molecular genetics. He presented his research, Functions of the Fun30 Chromatin Remodeler in DNA Postreplication Repair and Heterochromatin Structure in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His research with Dr. Bi Xin from the Biology Department suggests that a gene from yeast is required for a new pathway for DNA damage repair. He plans to apply to medical school but will be taking a gap year to study medical science and public health at Boston University.

Joseph, who majors in molecular genetics, presented her topic, “Elucidating the mitochondrial targeting sequence of the yeast flap endonuclease (RAD27).” In layman’s terms, making mutations in the gene to figure out how it gets transported into the mitochondria.

Panda’s topic was on the impact of peripheral radiation on cognition and neurogenesis. This neuroscience major’s poster won the honorable mention in the Category of Biology.

NCRC 2Weber majors in cell and developmental biology while also pursuing a minor in business. From his experience in the Nedergaard Lab, he presented research about the newly discovered “Glymphatic” waste-clearance system with a focus on spinal cord injury.

The excitement of the student-run conference did not stop at poster sessions! Many keynote speakers were in attendance, such as Stephen Wolfram of Wolfram Alpha and John Mather from NASA. By attending the conference, Ren found many networking opportunities within his peers, potential employers, and members of higher education. He was inspired by the influential minds around him. “Talk to attendees and talk with the keynote speakers, you will find their words and ideals will change your mind.”

For any further information on the conference, please contact Yanhan Ren at yren6@u.rochester.edu.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Katrina Furth

defaultName: Katrina Furth

Occupation: Graduate Student in Neuroscience

Education (UR and additional): BCS Major at the University of Rochester and PhD Candidate at Boston University

Current city/state/country of residence: Washington, DC

Current Community activities: Team Leader at Northwest Community Church, Avid cyclist

Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

The University of Rochester had the best brain and cognitive science program in the area. I was also excited about participating in research opportunities available through the school. The University also appealed to me in that everyone was very different but also very motivated. I could find a niche of people who shared similar interests with me, while being exposed to people with different passions and hobbies, too.

When and how did you choose your major(s)?

I knew that I wanted to study the brain because a close friend and a close relative of mine have experienced serious mental illness. I wanted to get involved in research in order to better understand the problems underlying mental illness and how to fix them.

Who were your mentors while you were on campus?  Have you continued those relationships?

While I was at the University of Rochester, I worked with an excellent faculty member, Dr. Florian Jaeger, who taught me how to think critically, develop research questions and analyze data. This was invaluable. He invested a lot of time and resources into my projects, and met with me regularly one-on-one for three out of my four years at the school.  We are still in touch, but mostly as friends, because my research has shifted focus.


What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

The greatest reason to become a brain and cognitive science major rather than a neuroscience major is that BCS majors must learn computer programming and statistics. No matter what field of work you encounter, knowing how to process data will always give you a competitive edge. Programming can make you more efficient in almost any line of work, and statistics can be applied in thousands of different situations. The key is understanding what you are comparing. The statistics classes that are part of the major, and the programming course have proven very useful in graduate school.


What is your fondest memory of the University?

I actually transferred to the University of Rochester after one semester at another local school. I remember looking around the flag lounge and seeing so many different groups of students studying, eating together, and intently focused on different discussions, and feeling like I was finally in the “right place.” I felt like I fit right in.


BCS & Neuroscience Undergraduate Council Hosts Mentoring Program

Undergraduates in brain and cognitive sciences and neuroscience may now have an easier time navigating their demanding majors, thanks to a new mentorship program. Created by the BCS & Neuroscience Undergraduate Council, the service pairs upperclassmen with younger students to help bridge the gap between the two groups and create a sense of community in the degree.

The program’s first meeting, held on Sept. 22, matched more than 70 students with mentors.

The program also provides a personal source of advice for  younger students on department courses, study abroad planning, undergraduate research, applying to graduate school, and more. Students are also encouraged to build a strong relationship with their mentor, contacting them at any point during the school year for advice.


Council President Mariah Meyer says that council members were inspired to create the program from their own challenges as undergraduates. “As an underclassman, navigating coursework, study abroad, and eventual graduate school planning can be intimidating. Similarly, many students wonder how to get involved in undergraduate research,” explains Meyer.“The mentoring program not only helps underclassmen, but it also gives upperclassmen the opportunity to impart the wisdom that they wish they had known.”


Building off the success of this event, the BCS & Neuroscience Undergraduate Council plans to host a mentorship program every semester. Students interested in learning more about the program are encouraged to visit the Council’s homepage at http://uofrbrain.tk/, or email Meyer directly at mmeyer5@u.rochester.edu.

Internship Leads to Career Ambition for Rochester Senior

Univ. Communications – Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man. The pre-med neuroscience major is not only doing a Take 5 year in environmental economics, he also is completing a senior thesis using research from his continued work in Dr. Kim Tieu’s neuroscience lab.

Grima, originally from New York City, graduated from LaGaurdia High School, where he studied drama. He visited the University of Rochester after hearing about it from his high school mentor. Grima was struck by the willingness of students and faculty from different disciplines to sit down and work together.  “It wasn’t cut throat here and I really liked that,” he said.

His interest in drama got him thinking about the mind which led him to minor in clinical psychology. When Grima heard about the neuroscience program, which combined his interest in the mind with science, he decided to make it his major. In early 2010, after reading about the work being done at the U of R Medical Center on the neurobiology of disease, Grima became particularly interested in Dr. Tieu’s lab and emailed him expressing his interest.  “[H]e was in the process of interviewing candidates for an undergraduate position. Just my luck; I was just in time,” Grima said. “I was lucky enough to receive the position and I have been working with him ever since.”  Using his research from Dr. Tieu’s lab, Grima has been working on his thesis since May 2011.

Grima’s research focuses specifically on the treatment of Huntington’s disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder passed down through families. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Huntington’s disease comes in two forms, early-onset Huntington’s disease, which is a rare form of the disease that begins in childhood or adolescence, and adult-onset Huntington’s disease, the more common form, which typically manifests itself during a person’s mid-30s and 40s.  Physical symptoms include jerking and uncontrollable movements that become progressively more exaggerated.  Cognitive problems also worsen over time, and ultimately lead to dementia and death.

The lab in which he works is testing Dr. Tieu’s theory that by suppressing the function of a certain protein they can provide a restorative effect for individuals with Huntington’s disease.  His research focuses on two methods of suppressing the protein and treating Huntington’s disease.  One method aims to treat the condition using gene therapy, while the other method treats it through the use of drugs.  In May, Grima will present his thesis and findings to a committee gathered together by his thesis adviser and mentor, Dr. Tieu. The experience of researching treatments for the disease has been transformative for Grima. “It has given me an interest in research,” he said. “I would like to continue with it in the future if I can.”

In March he will present preliminary findings to his peers at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Utah.  Grima is one of several University of Rochester students in many disciplines to be invited to the conference.  “It should be great,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what students from other disciplines are presenting.”

After graduation in the spring, Grima plans to take a gap year to continue his research in Dr. Tieu’s lab full time.  He is currently studying for the MCAT and hopes to get into the University of Rochester Medical School where he would like to continue his research and earn an MD/PhD.  Like I said, Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man.

Article written by Daniel Baroff, a senior at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. He is majoring in religion with a minor in Jewish studies.  His main area of study is the involvement of Jews in the American comic book industry, for which he keeps an infrequently updated blog (http://theamazingspiderdan.wordpress.com).

In the Photo: Phillip Rappold (left), a doctoral degree student in the neuroscience graduate program, has acted as a mentor for Rochester undergrad Jonathan Grima (right) in Dr. Kim Tieu’s lab. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grima.

Research Grant Sends Undergrad to Kenya

Office of Undergraduate Research – University of Rochester student Theresa Kurtz ’12, spent the first month of her summer vacation traveling abroad to Kenya, Africa through funding provided by a Research and Innovation Grant, awarded to her upon admission to the University.

For four weeks, Kurtz lived with a host family in an apartment outside of one of the largest slums in Africa, Kibera. In Kibera, she delivered food to sick families and taught science at a small school. She also teamed up with a few Canadian students to help a local chief and pastor to find families in need. With assistance from local guides, the group was able to go into the homes of people and learn how these families live and support themselves in Kibera. “The families were eager to share their stories and enormously grateful for our aid,” Kurtz said.

When she wasn’t trudging through the alleys of Kibera, Kurtz taught science to grades 3, 5, and 6 at Damside School. “At first the students were ambivalent towards me and my unfamiliar teaching style,” she said, “But–with the help of candies and educational games–they started seeking me out in the schoolyard and begging me to come teach them science.”

Kurtz, who is a double major in math and neuroscience, said that she will never forget the talented students that she met in Kibera and is hoping to support Damside School in the near future.  “Though I study math and neuroscience at UR, the grant gave me the chance to research the educational system and lifestyle of citizens in Kenya from an anthropologic perspective,” she explained. “I am thankful for the insight I’ve received from my excursion, and I hope to make a bigger impact in this society now that I have been exposed to the problems and wonders of Kibera.”

For more news on undergraduate research, visit http://www.rochester.edu/college/ugresearch/index.html

Article and photos courtesy of Theresa Kurtz