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First and second year UGA students engage in experiential learning through the CURO program

Athens, Ga. – Fifteen first-year students at the University of Georgia have been selected to participate in the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Apprentice program. They join a group of 13 returning second-year program participants.

“CURO Apprentices learn first-hand what their professors do when they are not teaching in the classroom by joining faculty research teams to create new knowledge in their fields,” said Pamela Kleiber, associate director of the Honors Program, who coordinates CURO programs. “Faculty members invest in these young scholars so that they can eventually distinguish themselves with original contributions. It is a remarkable opportunity for these first and second-year students at UGA.”

For the last ten years, undergraduates in their first and second years at UGA have been engaged in experiential, inquiry-based research through the CURO Apprentice program. The current students spend 10-12 hours a week actively engaged in their research projects with their faculty mentors. They also attend a writing-intensive Honors seminar focused on the research process and practices.

Julian Rios, a first-year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biology, said that his current project will help him frame his interests as he thinks about what field of medicine he would like to practice. In the materials research laboratory of chemist Marcus Lay, Rios is focusing on the manipulation of carbon nanotubes whose properties may result in the development of sensor and electronic applications at the nano-scale level.

“The apprenticeship has given me a foundation on which I can rely for help and support,” said Rios, who is from Duluth. “I thought this topic was very interesting because it can lead to potentially groundbreaking innovation and the experience would help me learn what it’s like to research in a science lab.”

First-year student Marianne Ligon said that her experience working in a laboratory during her senior year of high school piqued her interest to apply for the CURO Apprenticeship at UGA. Currently a double major in cellular biology and genetics, Ligon is studying a small RNA-based immune system found in bacteria and archea, single-celled microorganisms. Her faculty mentor is biochemistry and molecular biology professor Michael Terns.
“The CURO Apprenticeship provided encouragement for me to seek out a research position of my interest,” said Ligon, who is from Clemson, S.C. “The seminar is also a useful forum for discussing different research experiences with my peers.” Second-year student Laura O’Neill said she appreciates the opportunity to work directly with participants in her project under the guidance of speech-language pathology professor Rebecca Shisler Marshall. O’Neill, who is pursuing bachelor’s degrees in cognitive science and psychology, is investigating the executive function and working memory of individuals with aphasia, a language disorder. “The CURO Apprentice program gave me the freedom to discover something amazing,” said O’Neill, who is from Atlanta. “It allowed me to turn interest into passion. I love my research, and I am incredibly grateful that I have found a project that makes me excited to explore, investigate and learn.”

To further provide peer support and guidance, three teaching assistants, all former CURO Apprentices, lead small group discussions about research and campus life every week after the seminar. Each teaching assistant works with about ten apprentices.

Michael Burel, a third-year student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in cellular biology, said that the CURO Apprentice program has been an anchor for him in his undergraduate education and he would like to pass that on to the new group of apprentices.

“Ultimately, my goal is to instill in the apprentices a sense of confidence and independence in their research,” said Burel, who is from Acworth. “I want them to know that they always have a safety net to fall back on should things not work out as expected. Becoming personally connected with the apprentices helps build community within the program.”

The CURO Apprentice program is open to eligible high school seniors only. Students who would like to continue for a second year must have a minimum 3.4 cumulative GPA and a satisfactory performance review.

For more information on the CURO Apprentice Program, see and click on CURO.

The 2010-2011 CURO apprentices are:

Name / Hometown / Major(s)

First-year apprentices

Dervin Cunningham Jr. / Albany / biological sciences, music (pre-med)

Alexis Garcia / Duluth / business

Anna Beth Havenar / Statesboro / religion, Spanish

Sam Hempel / Atlanta / biochemistry and molecular biology

Elena James / Suwanee / biochemistry and molecular biology

Cody Knapp / Thomasville / international affairs, journalism

Marianne Ligon / Clemson, S.C. / cellular biology, genetics

Katie Manrodt / Statesboro / physics

Brittany McGrue / Alpharetta / art

Sarah Mitchell / Tucker / undecided

Julian Rios / Duluth / biology

Connor Sweetnam / Suwanee / cellular biology

Aamir White / Stone Mountain / biology (pre-med)

Chatela Young / Gainesville / nutrition science

Cameron Zahedi / Milton / physics, economics

Second-year apprentices

Jessica Alcorn / Loganville / political science, international affairs, history

Christina Azahar / Milledgeville / music, Latin American and Caribbean studies

Jason Bowman / Kennesaw / biochemistry and molecular biology

Vinh Dong / Warner Robins / biology, chemistry

Eric Ekwueme / Snellville / international affairs, Chinese

JoyEllen Freeman / Milton / English, English education

Rachel Johnson / Lawrenceville / microbiology, Spanish

David Mapp / Union Point / political science (pre-law)

Oluremi Ojo / Stone Mountain / biological sciences (pre-med)

Laura O’Neill / Atlanta / cognitive science, psychology (pre-med)

Rachel Pérez / Savannah / history, anthropology

Akil Piggott / Suwanee / exercise and sports science

Edward Wells Jr. / Hinesville / political science

The 2010-2011 CURO teaching assistants are:

Name / Hometown / Major(s)

Michael Burel / Acworth / cellular biology

Shelby Hipol / Boxborough, Mass. / advertising

Kema Hodge / Lithonia / advertising