WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., July 2019 — It’s not everyone’s idea of summer fun but to West Liberty University undergraduates, Christian Kaftanic and Jennifer Myers, disease-causing microbes is the perfect pastime for summer vacation.
Both students are part of West Virginia’s SURE program that offers summer internships to undergraduates majoring in the sciences. The students are working with Dr. Joseph Horzempa, associate professor of biology in WLU’s College of Sciences.
“Both Christian and Jennifer are investigating exactly how a pathogenic microbe (Francisella tularensis) invades the red blood cells of its mammalian host,” explained Horzempa who was named West Virginia’s Professor of the Year in April 2018.
Microbial pathogenesis and host-pathogen interactions are hot topics for this lab and students work hard on research and data collection.
“Having the opportunity to work alongside faculty and other students in this program has been so valuable to my education. I know I’ll be able to take back what I’ve learned from this experience and apply it to my coursework,” said Myers who is from Wellsburg, W.Va. and plans on becoming a physician assistant in the future.
Horzempa and his students are part of an effort to develop new antibiotics and vaccines as they study this particular bacterium that Horzempa has researched since he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine from 2006 – 2011.
Horzempa also is mentoring three graduate students Elliot Collins, Kristen Haggerty, and Samantha Hodgson and local high school teacher, Jill Stephens, in his lab this summer.
The graduate students are working on their theses and plan to earn doctoral degrees in the future. Stephens is a teacher at Wheeling Park High School and earned a fellowship for this summer study.
Additionally, Dr. Stuart Cantlay, WLU assistant professor of biology is a member of Horzempa’s research lab.
Research opportunities continue to increase at WLU and offer undergraduates and graduate assistants a strong experience that leads to graduate school and successful careers. Student researchers often receive a stipend and gain a chance to present their findings on a state, national and international level.
Funding for the summer research comes from the NIH, WV-INBRE, WV-NASA Space Grant Consortium, the WV Research Challenge Fund, and the WLU Foundation.
SURE, which stands for summer undergraduate research experience, is funded with support from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission’s Division of Science and Research. Topper-SURE offers each student researcher a $3,000 stipend along with a valuable research experience for their resume.
Other WLU biology labs where students perform SURE research this summer include:
- Zachary “Zac” Loughman’s crayfish lab
- Deanna Schmitt’s lab which is working on antibiotic studies
- James Wood lab which is studying e. coli bacterium in streams
- Matthew Zdilla’s which studies skull morphometrics
The Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics is part of West Liberty University’s College of Sciences. For more information, please visit www.westliberty.edu or call 1.866.WESTLIB.