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Students of the Freshman Research Immersion (FRI) program present their research at a poster session in the Engineering and Science Building at the Innovative Technologies Complex on Dec. 7.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Freshman Research Immersion students display their work
December 15, 2015Tweet
Most college students don’t have the opportunity to engage in deep scientific research with faculty until their junior or senior year.
That’s not the case at Binghamton University. The Freshman Research Immersion (FRI) program – the only one of its kind in the Northeast and just one of four in the country – offers freshmen an authentic research experience that prepares them for careers in science and engineering. Students conduct real research with the guidance of faculty recognized around the world for their work on critical issues.
About 200 students enrolled in FRI recently held two poster sessions in the Innovative Technologies Complex Rotunda to present their research to the University community. Posters spanned several research streams in the sciences, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines involving neuroscience, biomedical chemistry, microbiology, computer and electrical engineering and smart energy.
Sophomore Kaitlin Woodruff is in the biofilms stream and said her research on persister cells (cells highly tolerant to antibiotics) has inspired her to pursue a career studying ways to eliminate certain diseases.
“I think FRI is the best possible place I could have started in terms of exposing myself to some things I didn’t even realize were possible fields of study for me,” she said. “Persister cells are a big issue with infections like cystic fibrosis and hospital-born infections that you might get in a very sterile setting. Persister cells can regenerate an entire population of diseased cells and make it really hard to eradicate a disease within a person.”
Freshmen Christopher Tempesta and Matthew Urrutia are also tackling research that could lead to life-saving results. Their project, under the supervision of Tatyana Boykco, their research educator, focuses on biofilm colonization on medical implants.
“The problem with medical implants is that bacteria are able to form on them because they’re inorganic substances and not part of our own body. What we’re researching is preventive methods to prevent infections caused by the biofilm formation,” Tempesta said.
In addition to working with professors on sophisticated research, students learn other valuable skills that build academic credibility and make them extremely marketable.
“We learn how to collaborate and build off of one another, which is what a real research experience also entails,” said sophomore Maggie Fox, a student in the smart energy stream. “The FRI program not only taught us how to use real laboratory equipment and laboratory protocol; it taught us how to conduct a research project, present our findings, work in a group and make connections with faculty and other students. You can see that this is more than just a research class because I feel that as a student I have made progress in all of my classes based off of what I learned in FRI.”
“This program taught me how to act on my own, and figure things out for myself instead of always being told what to do,” Urrutia said.
On the other hand, one of the cornerstones of the program is that faculty and research educators make themselves accessible, which Jourdan Pouliot, a freshman in the neuroscience stream, appreciates. “I work with Dr. [Corinne] Kiessling and she’s created a warm environment for all of us,” he said. “She’s always very good about finding time for us.”
FRI Director Nancy Stamp explained the importance of the relationship between faculty and students. “Students and their research educators start working together during the freshmen’s first semester, so the students have three semesters of a developing mentor-mentee relationship and peer-support community.
Nationally, science education research shows the importance of those elements for increasing graduates in science and engineering, and especially for expanding student diversity in those fields,” she said.
The curriculum is rigorous and time consuming, and students can expect to spend several hours in the lab each week; but these promising future scientists wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I would definitely do it all again. I just wish I had more time to do everything!” Woodruff said.
“A lot of the science that we work with is well beyond the undergraduate level, so it requires a lot of time to fully understand the concepts and rational behind the procedures we experiment with,” said Andrew Genussa, a sophomore in the smart energy stream.
Three additional research streams are planned for fall 2016, which will expand the program to a total of eight streams: biogeochemistry (environmental science), geospatial remote sensing (environmental studies), and molecular and biomedical anthropology (evolutionary medicine).
The program is by invitation only and space is limited to 30 students per stream admitted to Harpur College of Arts and Sciences and 30 students admitted to the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science.