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Hands-on research part of daily routine for UGA freshmen and sophomores in CURO Apprentice Program

Hands-on research part of daily routine for UGA freshmen and sophomores in CURO Apprentice Program

Athens, Ga. – High school seniors Muktha Natrajan from Martinez and Marcus Hines from Albany knew they wanted to participate in the Apprentice Program sponsored by the University of Georgia’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO) after visiting campus last spring. Recognized as CURO Promising Scholars, they were invited to CURO’s annual spring symposium, where more than 100 undergraduates present their research.

Now as UGA freshmen, Natrajan and Hines are studying stem cell and pancreatic cancer issues, respectively, guided by leading faculty researchers. They are part of a group of 24 freshmen and sophomores selected for the Apprentice Program this year.

Through the CURO Apprentice Program, the Honors Program has been promoting these research partnerships at the onset of college so that the students can delve right into their fields of interest and explore various options of their chosen career paths.

“We have Honors students who choose UGA rather than other top schools in the country because of the opportunities to do research early in their career,” said David S. Williams, director of the Honors Program. “As the CURO Apprentice Program continues to grow in stature and reputation, we are examining how we can further maximize the two-year apprenticeship. For example, this year the Honors Program supported 14 CURO Apprentices’ travel to present posters and oral presentations at a national conference.”

Natrajan, a biochemistry and molecular biology major and a graduate of Lakeside High School, credits the apprenticeship as an opportunity to work on a project that is also very personal for her. “I am working with germ cell differentiation for my project and I chose this topic because I have an aunt who has Parkinson’s disease,” said Natrajan, whose faculty mentor Steve Stice is a noted biomedical cloning scientist. “I knew that stem cell research could help with her ailment.”

Before Hines’ spring campus visit, he already was familiar with the Apprentice Program after hearing about the CURO experiences of his older brother Melvin. Hines, a graduate of Albany High School, is currently working in the laboratory of Lance Wells and Michael Tiemeyer in UGA’s Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, investigating biomarkers that will allow physicians to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

“The advantage of such a program is that you get exposed to a level of research that many undergraduate students do not see,” said Hines, who is pursuing a biology degree with the hopes of becoming a doctor one day. “I thought it was great there was a research program I could get involved with as a freshman.”

As part of the program, the apprentices attend a weekly interdisciplinary seminar with a strong writing component that focuses on issues and methods related to conducting research.

“The small weekly seminar provides the support and encouragement for these undergraduates who are undertaking the challenge of research,” said Pamela Kleiber, associate director of the Honors Program. “CURO apprentices may decide to don white lab coats to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with nationally and internationally recognized research faculty, while other apprentices prefer to create art or investigate psychological or social problems, political processes or international affairs. Diversity of individuals, program of study, thought and approach is integral to the CURO Apprentice Program.”

Invited speakers such as Jay Hakes, director of the Jimmy Carter Library in Atlanta, provide an expert perspective on timely national topics and encourage further debate and discussion among the apprentices. Hakes, whose book The Quest for Energy Independence will be published in May 2008, recently discussed the intricate relationships between energy, climate change and international cooperation.

Sophomore Darryl Tricksey appreciates that the CURO program also allows him to work on local community issues and gain some insight into areas outside of his environmental health science major. Under the guidance of social work professor Larry Nackerud, Tricksey, who is from Atlanta, is involved in research focused on poverty issues within Athens-Clarke County.

“I would love to work in public health for a major news or media network,” he said. “That way I can combine my love for public health and public relations and work in a field that compliments both of my passions.”

Students in the program receive additional support from teaching assistants, former apprentices who exemplified outstanding leadership during their time in the program. Susan Guo, a third-year accounting major from Tifton, is one of three teaching assistants who lead small groups each week in which the current apprentices can receive more in-depth student viewpoints about the topics addressed in the seminars.

“I want the apprentices to get the most out of their research experience,” said Guo. “As a teaching assistant, it is exciting to be able to share my past research experiences with current CURO apprentices so that their positive experience is maximized.”

Freshmen chosen for the Apprentice Program may continue through their sophomore year if they maintain a minimum 3.4 GPA and receive a satisfactory performance review.

For more information about the CURO Apprentice Program, visit: