Campus News

The apprentices

Undergraduate students work with faculty mentors on year-long research projects

For about 10-12 hours a week, sophomore Edmond Fomunung can be found looking through a telescope in the lab of David Peterson, a professor of medical microbiology and parasitology in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Under Peterson’s guidance, he is studying the mechanism of how the protozoan Plasmodium falciparum invades its host, causing malaria.

“Being originally from Africa, malaria is a subject that has always intrigued me, given the high mortality rates associated with this disease in the developing world,” says Fomunung, a cell biology major. “So this opportunity to do research on and understand this disease could not have been more timely.”

Fomunung is one of 39 undergraduates who have been selected to work closely with faculty mentors on year-long research projects through an apprentice program offered by the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities. The apprenticeships, managed by the Honors Program, introduce freshmen and sophomores to the rigors of conducting research ranging from the humanities to the sciences. The program also establishes a community of scholars who connect with each other through CURO-sponsored academic enrichment activities.

This is the second year Peterson has mentored Fomunung, and he credits the one-on-one mentoring relationships as the source of the continued success of the program.

“Edmond is the first CURO apprentice to work in my laboratory, and I have genuinely enjoyed our interactions,” says Peterson. “Edmond is one of the hardest working students I have met, and I am always impressed with his desire to truly understand all aspects of his research project.”

Senior peer advisers, CURO apprentices from the previous year who are nominated by their peers, help facilitate weekly research meetings and provide advice and support to individual apprentices assigned to them. Juniors Caelin Cubeñas, a biochemistry and molecular biology major; Brittany King, a psychology major; and Anjan Deka, a microbiology and religion double major, each mentor a group of 12 to 13 apprentices.

“I think it is incredibly important to have senior peer advisers because within the first week of school, the apprentices know three upperclassmen who they can talk to about classes, future scholarships and goals,” says Cubeñas, who was recently named a Goldwater Scholar. “I’ve already had many students ask me about how I applied for some of the scholarships I have received.”

This past spring, CURO received a grant from the National Science Foundation to invite outstanding high school students to campus as CURO “Promising Scholars.” The students were recognized for their science and math achievements at CURO’s undergraduate research symposium in April, where they learned more about the program and met CURO participants.

“We sincerely want the CURO Apprentice Program to serve as a magnet for attracting students who value learning alongside faculty in the research environment,” says Pamela Kleiber, associate director of the Honors Program, who oversees CURO. “Six of the seven ‘Promising Scholars’ are currently at UGA, having received apprenticeships and/or prestigious scholarships.”

UGA’s provost’s office and the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute provide funding for the apprenticeships. The Graduate School also supports graduate student assistantships critical to the management of the program.