NSF and DOD Renew Undergraduate Outreach Program

Participants from the 2018 cohort at the CARES Symposium.

Every summer for the past 10 years, a group of non-Hopkins undergraduate students from around the United States come to Baltimore to receive intensive training in the nanobiotechnology field at the Institute for NanoBioTechnology. These students are part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program, a program designed to provide valuable educational experiences that may be unavailable at the students’ home institution.

INBT’s REU Nanotechnology for Biology and Bioengineering program was recently renewed by the National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense through 2022. Not only that, the institute received funding to provide this experience to 14 students each summer, an increase from 10 participants in all previous years.

Students participate in several types of research projects across the institute’s labs at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine campus.  While projects are assigned to align with the students’ personal interests, the main theme of their projects fall under one or more of the institute’s core research areas: developing cancer and other disease therapies, using stem cells and regenerative engineering to heal the body, and developing more refined diagnostic tools for early disease detection.

Habben Desta, 2018 summer intern, worked with Konstantinos Konstantopulos’ lab team on understanding how physical cues regulate a cell’s response.

Additionally, students receive professional development training to build their communication skills, participate in networking activities, meet with specialty scholars, and take day trips to local research organizations. At the end of the internship, they present their research findings in a poster session with other undergraduate summer interns around Hopkins at the CARES Symposium.

But the program is not all work. In addition to their research training, students receive a unique cultural and social experience. Students are encouraged to travel and participate in local activities in Baltimore, Washington D.C., and the mid-Atlantic areas.

The program is directed by Denis Wirtz, co-founder and core faculty member at INBT, Vice Provost for Research, and Theophilus Halley Smoot Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Efie Kokkoli, INBT core faculty member and professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. With the help of INBT researchers and staff, they continue to make the program highly competitive, receiving about 600 to 800 applicants each year. In total, the program hosted 141 students, with 52 percent identifying as female and 48 percent identifying as underrepresented minorities. The INBT team’s dedication to undergraduate outreach education ensures the program evolves to provide an experience that supports successful careers for talented undergraduates.

Top photo: Students present their research at the CARES symposium at end of the internship. 2018 summer interns included Randy Rainwater (back row), (front row left to right) Nicole Felix Velez, Tran Ngo, and Josh Jimison

Story by: Gina Wadas