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‘Aspiring Scientists’ Program Concludes Another Successful Year

August 17, 2011

Aug. 17, 2011

Media Contact: Leah Fogarty, 703-993-8781

Manassas, Va., – George Mason University’s Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) wrapped up its fifth year on Monday with final presentations highlighting all of the original research projects completed through the program at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the Prince William Campus.

ASSIP provides the opportunity for high school juniors, seniors and college undergraduates interested in exploring science and medicine to gain hands-on research experience. This summer, the 48 local high school and undergraduate students put in eight 40-hour weeks at Mason’s Prince William and Fairfax Campuses as they worked benchside with their dedicated Mason faculty mentors-33 in all-from disciplines such as chemistry, biochemistry, proteomics, genomics, neuroscience, biodefense, bioinformatics, computer science, nanotechnology, physics and environmental science.

Through regularly scheduled meetings with their mentors, as well as program-wide lab safety training, career workshops and guest speaker seminars, students received exposure to levels of science that many aspiring researchers will not see until they enter the workforce. Research projects this summer included investigations into such health challenges as cancer, HIV, tuberculosis, Alzheimer’s disease and illnesses resulting from biothreat agents.

Following their final presentations, where students explained their research findings to a large group of interested Mason faculty and staff members, students and community members, Amy VanMeter, director of ASSIP, spoke of the powerful work these students have completed.

“Every year, I am moved to tears by something these students have accomplished,” VanMeter said. “Last Friday was no different. One of the students said to me, ‘We are finding the pieces of the puzzle to cure disease.’ And that’s what each and every one of these students is doing-they’re making significant advancements in their areas of science and I’m so very proud of them.”

Dr. Lance Liotta, co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine and one of the founders of ASSIP, urged those present to “remember the names of all of these students” since audience members would see those same names in print as award finalists, as authors of publications, as holders of patents, and, eventually, as CEOs of biotechnology companies and famous researchers.

“We have high hopes that discoveries from this summer will end up as new treatment strategies for infectious disease or cancer-or will provide new clues for developmental biology or how the brain works,” Liotta said.

Liotta’s hopes are well-founded. Past alumni of the ASSIP program have had their findings published in academic journals-one former student has even a license pending for a first of its kind, noninvasive diagnostic test for Lyme disease.

Indeed, preparing the next generation of science leaders is a key goal of this program. Take Trish Ike, a two-time alumna of ASSIP and recent graduate of Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas, Va., who will be enrolling at Duke University this fall. She credits the program with boosting her confidence and skills.

“I think one of the most important things I have learned is to definitely take the initiative,” says Ike, who researched Alcoholic liver disease using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis with Mason faculty mentor and assistant biochemistry professor Robin Couch. “Because of this program, I’m more confident in my science classes when approaching new ideas and topics because I know the right questions to ask and the right techniques to uncover the answers.”

Other Aspiring Scientists and their projects this summer include:

  • Chandler King, a junior at Osbourn Park High School and the Governor’s School @ Innovation Park, located on the Prince William Campus, spent his summer identifying protein biomarkers for lung cancer in order to locate lung cancer cells in the early stages. His mentor was proteomics researcher and faculty member Claudia Fredolini in the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine.
  • Annalise Schoonmaker, a sophomore at Cornell University and a three-time participant in ASSIP, studied a gene that could potentially inhibit replication of the Rift Valley Fever Virus, an emerging infectious disease that affects both livestock and humans. Her mentor was Kylene Kehn-Hall, assistant professor in Mason’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases.
  • Alex Chen, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, worked with Jason Kinser, associate professor in the School of Systems Biology, to design a new process to combine queries of many different types of data simultaneously. This tool was used to combine speech and facial recognition. Alex will be presenting his work at the Applied Imagery Pattern Recognition Workshop in Washington D.C., in October.

The Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program (ASSIP) is funded by corporate and personal donations. The 2011 ASSIP is supported by donations from Micron Foundation, Lockheed Martin, Prince William County Economic Development, Fisher Scientific, CellSignaling Technology, Corning, SCHOTT, Invitrogen, Applied Biosystems, Eppendorf, Aushon Biosystems, McGraw Hill, Dako, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Applied Scientific, USA Scientific and Northern Virginia residents.

For more information on the program, visit the ASSIP website. To speak with VanMeter, Liotta, or any of the student participants, please contact Leah Fogarty at 703-993-8781 or to arrange interviews. High-resolution images are available upon request.

About George Mason University

George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country. Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University-Where Innovation Is Tradition.