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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    URECA’s Researcher of the Month: a Precursor to Success

    Doing hands on research one on one with some of the most prestigious faculty members in the country is what Stony Brook University’s Undergraduate Research & Creative Activity (URECA) program supports. URECA provides opportunities for well-qualified students to perform faculty-mentored research in a wide variety of subject areas at Stony Brook. The program also recognizes an outstanding student within the program each month by awarding him or her the title of ‘Researcher of the Month.’
    ‘Researcher of the Month’ feature has been in place since November 2005. The researcher is generally chosen by the Director of URECA, Karen Kernan. There is no set procedure for the bright young scientists to be selected to be Researcher of the Month. According to Kernan, they are chosen when ‘faculty usually mentions when they have an outstanding student.’
    This month’s winner, Cynthia Okoye, was recognized through her commendable work in Dr. Hsien-yu Wang’s lab. Okoye is a Pharmacology major and has worked on ‘The Expression of WNT and Frizzled in Human Embryonic Stem Cells.’ Her research specifically entails working on comparing the expression of WNT and Frizzled genes in four different stem cells – the human embryonic stem cells (HESC), the mouse embryonic stem cells (MES), the human bone marrow stem cells (HMSC) and the Mouse embryonic fibroblasts (MEF).
    Thus far, Okoye has been able to determine which WNT and Frizzled genes are expressed in HESC, MES and HMSC. In the future, she plans to work on determining those that are expressed in MEF, and intends to quantify her data and determine how the presence or absence of a particular WNT and/or Frizzled gene is involved in maintaining stem cell pluripotency or differentiation. Okoye emphasized that her ‘research is important because the research on stem cells is advancing and being able to understand something new about these cells can play a key role in the use of stem cells therapeutically.’
    Usually students conduct research in fields that are closely related to their major. Because Okoye is a Pharmacology major, she also pursued a project that complements her major. All of the courses being taken prior to her senior year’s pharmacology courses provided her with the basic knowledge and understanding of certain biological techniques and characterization methods needed in her research. Pursuing research can be seen as another class for some students and thus, being able to juggle a full time schedule and a project can be difficult. Okoye believes it is not an easy task, but nonetheless, has learned to manage her time well and has a very supportive mentor, who has provided her much guidance.
    Besides excelling in research, Okoye is also a very well-rounded student and is involved in many extracurricular activities including the Undergraduate Pharmacology Society, Academic Planning Committee, various community service activities, and Minorities in Medicine, in which she is still working on completing the requirement for full membership.
    With programs such as URECA, there are a lot of opportunities for advancement after gaining placement. Okoye explained that these include many conferences and presentation opportunities available both on campus and nationally, and even stipends.
    In the past, Kernan described that many of the Researchers of the Month students have gone on to excel in academia by attending prestigious schools, such as Harvard, and pursuing various Ph.D. programs and research as graduate students.

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