University of Rochester

Nine Rochester Undergrads Awarded Research Internships in Germany

May 9, 2013

Rochester undergraduates Kristin Abramo '15, Kevin Allan '14, Alexandra Born '15, Sarah Koniski '14, Louis Papa '14, Robert Rietmeijer '15, Jamie Strampe '15, Zhongwu Shi '15, and Qianli Sun '15 were recently selected to spend their summers conducting research in German laboratories through the German Academic Exchange Service-Research Internships in Science & Engineering Scholarship (DAAD-RISE) program.

Sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), RISE is an internship program for undergraduate students from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to conduct research in the fields of biology, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, and engineering. In the past six years, 35 Rochester students have been chosen as DAAD-RISE scholars; this year, a record-breaking nine students won placements, out of an applicant pool of 28 students, which was one of the largest ever from Rochester.

RISE students conduct research at universities and research institutions across Germany for up to three months during the summer. They are matched with advanced doctoral students who serve as their mentors and receive a stipend from DAAD to assist with living expenses, while partner universities and research institutes provide housing assistance. Since its inauguration in 2005 with 100 students, the competitiveness of the RISE program has increased steadily, said Belinda Redden, director of fellowships at Rochester, noting that more students are applying from an ever-larger number of institutions. From 2008 to 2012, the RISE applicant pool jumped from approximately 850 to about 1830, with more than 2,000 students applying this year. Redden said that the number of scholarships available has hovered around 300 though, making a successful candidacy ever more competitive.

"I am very pleased that so many sophomores are among our successful RISE applicants this year, since it can be quite challenging for younger students to obtain substantive summer research positions," said Redden, who works closely with Rochester students as they navigate the application process. "The possibility of our undergraduates—including those who are already studying abroad by attending university in the US— having such an important scientific experience while also being immersed in German culture keeps me excited about promoting RISE at Rochester."

Kristin Abramo

Kristin Abramo '15, who is working toward degrees in molecular genetics and business, will spend the summer conducting research in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Göttingen in Göttingen, Germany.

At Rochester, Abramo currently conducts research under the direction of Jim Miller in the Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology at the University's Medical Center. The DAAD-RISE research opportunity will be her first experience in the field of cancer research. "Every research lab is different, from the environment to the interactions with the principle investigator to the research being done," she explained. "This lab experience will provide increased knowledge on biological topics and techniques and better prepare me for future opportunities."

While Abramo, a native of Billerica, Mass., is still unsure which field of research she'd like to pursue after graduation, she is interested in furthering her education through the advanced study of genetics.

Thanks to the DAAD-RISE program, neuroscience major Kevin Allan '14 will add an experience with the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Langen, Germany to an already impressive research portfolio. Allan, a native of Sharon, Mass., spent three summers, including two while in high school, at an immunology lab at Harvard Medical School, an experience that sparked his interest in research. At Rochester, he works in Dr. Baek Kim's lab at the Medical Center, where he researches factors that play a role in HIV infection. In Germany, he will continue to conduct research around HIV, working with a doctoral student to study gene therapies and vaccines that can prevent infection.

An active member of the campus community, Allan is a freshman residential advisor, has taught six different classes as a teaching assistant and workshop leader, and is a member of the UR Bhangra dance team. He also serves as an executive board member for Rochester's Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Once he graduates, Allan hopes to enroll in an MD/PhD program, which will connect his interests in teaching, clinical work, and research. "I think that the future of medicine is starting to show that it will take the ingenuity and creativity of a researcher combined with the compassion and dexterity of a clinician to develop new and creative therapies for some of life's most debilitating diseases," he said.

Alexandra Born

For Alexandra Born '15, the DAAD-RISE program will be her first opportunity to conduct research. A microbiology and chemistry major, she will spend her summer working at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf Research Facility in Dresden, Germany.

"I have learned many lab techniques for biology and chemistry, and I'm excited to apply that knowledge to this research project," said Born, who has served as a teaching assistant for courses in organic chemistry and introductory biology. In Dresden, she will be assisting with research that looks at the optimization of a method for incorporating non-proteinogenic amino acids in recombinant human proteins.

Born, a native of Indianapolis, Ind., is a member of the varsity women's rowing team. After graduation, she plans to attend graduate school for microbiology and prepare for a career in pharmaceutical research.

Spencerport, N.Y., native Sarah Koniski '14 hopes her DAAD-RISE experience will give her insight into a field of study she has not yet explored. As a chemistry major she is currently working on an independent study under Dr. Kara Bren in the Department of Chemistry. There, she assists doctoral student Lenore Kubie with a project that involves the solubilization of carbon nanotubes.

At the Jülich Research Center (Forschungszentrum Jülich), she will add to her general knowledge of computation chemistry while testing different computation methods for radionuclide-bearing molecules.

At Rochester, Koniski is a member of the Chi Omega Sorority, where she serves on the executive board and is the new member educator. While her post-graduation plans are still undecided, she is interested in enrolling in a master's degree program in chemistry or pursuing an industry career.

Louis Papa

Louis Papa '14 plans to graduate from Rochester and pursue a doctoral degree in chemical biology and medicinal chemistry and hopes to teach at the university level. This summer's internship at the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Macromolecular Chemistry at the University of Jena will bring him one step closer to that career goal.

"This internship will allow me to experience a different scientific culture and see how day-to-day life varies across laboratories and countries," said Papa, who will be assisting in the study of the mechanism of an antibiotic thiostrepten.

Papa will bring nearly two years of laboratory experience to the internship, having worked in the Fasan Lab under the guidance of his faculty advisor Rudi Fasan and graduate student mentor John Frost. He also spent summer 2012 participating in the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program. In fall 2011, Papa was given the Merck Index Award by the Department of Chemistry, which recognizes academic achievement in organic chemistry.

Robert Reitmiejer

For Robert Reitmiejer '15, playing with Legos as a child sparked a life-long interest in the idea that things, such as molecules, can be put together to create novel functions. This childhood curiosity has translated into a major in biochemistry at Rochester. As a DAAD-RISE scholar, he will work at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, where he will assist a doctoral student in designing chymotrypsin enzymes for a thesis project. "I'm excited to be working with new instruments and research methods while in Germany," he said. "This is a rare and special opportunity to learn laboratory techniques and philosophies from someone doing research I would like to pursue."

The DAAD-RISE internship will build upon Rietmeijer's past research experience conducting data analysis with the Krauss Group, Professor Todd Krauss' lab in the Department of Chemistry. He also spent several summers participating in the Phillips Scholars program through the Kirtland Air Force Base in his hometown, Albuquerque, N.M.

A member of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity and the content editor of the Journal of Undergraduate Research, Rietmeijer is an active member of the campus community. He also serves as a teaching assistant and workshop leader in general chemistry courses. A perennial member of the Dean's List, he plans to pursue an advanced degree in biophysics as well as a master's of business administration, which could lead to possible careers in the private sector or academia.

Jamie Strampe

For Jamie Strampe '15, conducting research at the Universität Ulm, in Ulm, Germany, the birthplace of Albert Einstein, is an experience that will be both enriching and inspiring. A microbiology major with aspirations of conducting research in immunology after earning doctoral and medical degrees, Strampe said the DAAD-RISE program is the chance to gain experience in her field of study and hopes it will lead to future research opportunities.

She's well prepared for the project she'll assist with, which includes analyzing the immune system of a species of archaea, Haloferax volcanii, a microbe that is the most prevalent organism in the Dead Sea. At Rochester, Strampe spent several months in a biochemistry/molecular biology lab under the direction of Gloria Culver, where she learned widely-used lab techniques and familiarized herself with the research process.

Outside of the sciences, Strampe plans to minor in German, and hopes that the 12 weeks abroad will expand her knowledge of the language. In addition to her studies, she is involved with the UR Swing Dance Club, plays in the Stingers Trombone Ensemble, and participates in musical theater club Off Broadway On Campus. She also volunteers with UR Science Buddies, an after-school program that aims to get elementary students in Rochester excited about science.

Applied mathematics major Zhongwu Shi '15 and applied mathematics and physics major Qianli Sun '15 also will travel to Germany as RISE-DAAD scholars. Shi, a native of Wenzhou, Yueqing, in eastern coastal China, will be working in a computational engineering science group at RWTH Aachen, Germany's largest university of technology. Sun, from Jiangsu, also in eastern China, will be doing research on THz waveguide spectroscopy in the Department of Physics at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.

Not pictured: Kevin Allan, Sarah Koniski, and Zhongwu Shi.