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Reflecting on my summer research

It is hard to believe that my University Honors Summer Scholar experience has come to an end and has transitioned into the year-long appointment of being a University Honors Scholar. My research and artistry experience this summer was very eye-opening, as well as exciting. While I had the opportunity to create elements of a television program before as semester project, I had not had the chance to actually do the preparation work of looking at other shows created by university students and critiquing them in such an academic way. I have also never been the lone producer on a student program and am excited to be able to take on that role. I ran into some difficulty achieving one of my research goals, as I had hoped to find some concrete information about college-age viewership of talk or special interest shows. I found a lot of data and opinion based articles on viewership of dramas and comedies, but not exactly what I was looking for. In terms of putting the show together I have most of the pre-production work completed. I am getting ready to actually start filming in the fall semester. I have been in contact with one of the local television stations and am pursuing the opportunity for this show to have air time once it is completed and has a regular production schedule. As I have mentioned before, my hopes for this show are to not only create an opportunity for the Communications looking for television production experience, but to focus on the NIU and DeKalb communities. This summer research experience allowed me to get a head start on my capstone, which will hopefully make for an excellent television program.

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Summer Reflections

Participating in the University Honors Scholars Program has been a highly rewarding experience. Looking back on the summer, I can see the many ways that I have grown as a person. I have had many great experiences, and there are many people to thank for helping make my summer research a success. I am very grateful to the University Honors Program for making it possible to devote my time this summer to research. Additional gratitude goes to my faculty mentor, Dr. Nicholas Pohlman, who has been especially helpful.  He has challenged me to develop my critical thinking skills and look at problems from multiple perspectives. Without his direction, I would not have been able to make the progress that I have. This program has benefited my academic experience in many different ways, and I am excited to see what more I can learn as I finish my capstone this upcoming year.

This summer I was able to complete all of the tasks that I had hoped to. Among these things were document review, internal and external rail system design, development of an insertion procedure, and the preliminary design and analysis of external support stands. Since I was able to achieve all of this, I feel that I ended my summer research at the perfect place. I will spend my fall semester making multiple external stand design improvements. In the spring, I will focus my effort on technical writing as I document the details of my designs and simulations.

Performing this research has given me a great start on not only my capstone, but also my mechanical engineering senior design project. Since my senior design and capstone are incorporated, I now have a strong foundation on which to build on. I look forward to completing a distinguished capstone that helps to advance the understanding of physics and the particles that make up the world around us.

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Reflections of the past preserved by photography

Being an Honors Scholar has been an invaluable research experience. Being a part of this program allowed me to explore the topic I am passionate about in ways I might have not otherwCincotta NYC photo 2ise been able to do.

I began this project by participating in the Seminar on Archival and Historical Research at the Center for Jewish History in New York City, May 19-22. As one undergraduate alongside about ten graduate students, I attended lectures, group discussions, and workshops led by historians from across the nation, Center staff, and advanced Ph.D. students of history and Jewish Studies. I received in depth instruction from archivists and librarians on how to navigate the archives, use the reading room, and general archive processes.

Furthermore, during my time at the Center for Jewish History, I collected source materials integral to a study of German WWII photography. I examined original photo albums by members of the German military, a scrapbook created by the fiancé of an American soldier stationed in South-East Asia during WWII, a series of photographs taken by an Austrian Jew who fought for the British army also during WWII, and vacation albums compiled by ordinary Austrian citizens in the 1930s.

Cincotta NYC photoIn the remaining weeks following the seminar, I continued to collect primary materials and began to situate them in the secondary literature, alongside materials I previously consulted in Washington DC and Berlin, Germany. This program gave me the freedom to expand my literary review for this project beyond my capability to do so during a regular semester. Situating German WWII photographs in terms of their continuities and discontinuities meant that I had to expand the parameters of time, place, and cultural norms; by extension, my secondary literature review needed to be quite extensive. In the nine-week period, I not only read scholarly works on German photography during the Second World War. I expanded my review to include scholarly work on colonial photography (particularly French colonial photography starting in the late nineteenth century), German advertising and commercial culture in the 1920s and 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, and World War One. The Program enabled me to conduct a literary review I would not have been able to do as extensively during the semester, which allowed me to develop my thinking about the framework of the project and ultimately my argument. As a result, I have been able to craft the basic sections of my thesis, and am looking forward to the next steps as I begin to write.

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Reflecting on a great summer experience

Looking back, my summer research project was a great experience and has taught me many valuable skills as well as problem solving and the value of collaboration. I was able to put the skills I learned from my bioinformatics internship last summer into practice to compare amino acid transporter expression levels in human and mouse liver cancer. Working together, Dr. Bode, Dr. Yin and I were able to find, sort, analyze and interpret large datasets of the expression levels of solute carriers in both mouse and human liver cancer.Joel working in Bode lab pic for Honors blog-2_1

One of the surprises for me was the sheer volume of data that we had to cull through in order to extract the relevant solute carrier data. Each dataset that we downloaded contained the expression information for about 10,000 genes across a sample size of about 200 patients. Each sample was also replicated which meant even more data to sort. This meant that we had to extract only the information regarding the expression levels of the amino acid transporters and combine the replicate data. Thankfully, the amino acid transporters we were interested in studying were only coded for by around 64 genes, a much more manageable amount of data!

Although we are in the preliminary stages of our research, our findings suggest that there are significant quantitative differences between mouse and human solute carrier gene expression, but two of the solute carriers we were particularly interested in, ASCT2 and LAT1, appear to be enhanced in both human and mouse HCC. Moving forward with the project, one of the questions we will be seeking to solve is whether we can confirm our bioinformatics’ findings with living cells. Another question is – if so, what are the implications on mouse models because of the differences between mouse and human solute carrier expression?

Deeper analysis is needed to determine the most cogent mouse models for liver cancer research and to determine if the results from our bioinformatics’ data is confirmed in actual cells. We will move forward this fall by continuing to analyze our bioinformatics results to determine the quantitative differences for each solute carrier gene between mice and humans, and generate testable hypotheses which we will seek to confirm with more traditional methods such as RT-qPCR and Western blots to screen for RNA and protein expression levels respectively.

Thanks to the head start that my research this summer has given me, I will be able to accomplish the in-depth analysis that is necessary to find the most cogent mouse model for studying liver cancer therapies during my Senior capstone project. It is my hope that by finding the most analogous mouse model for human liver cancer, we will be able to better understand the functioning of potential drugs to treat liver cancer. It is also our goal to submit our novel findings to a scientific journal for publication later this year. It is my sincere hope that other researchers will benefit from our findings and use our discoveries as a foundation to build upon for many other scientific discoveries.

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My connection to the research

My love of history has its roots in a particular book that I read as a child: The Diary of Anne Frank. Around my ninth birthday, I received the book as a gift. I don’t recall my exact reactions to specific details in the book, nor do I remember having any prior knowledge of the Holocaust at that age. But what I do know is this: Reading that diary sparked not only a love of history, but a desire to hear the voices of the victims and the individuals who Anne Frankexperienced the Holocaust. This is what drives me to study modern Germany history to this day.

I have always been drawn to film and photography; The first photographs from this period that struck me were a series of images from the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, which I encountered as a high school freshman in a book about the camp. I was shocked by what they showed, and confronted by the historical truth they seemed to possess. It wasn’t until my sophomore year in college as a Research Rookie that I began critically thinking about what these images mean, and how they have been used in history. Through a project that comparatively analyzed WWII official and unofficial photographs by German soldiers, I discovered that many scholars assume that these photographs somehow “embody” Nazi ideology and are therefore tainted by it. Questioning this assumption is what led to this current project.

As I wrote about in a previous blog post, this project aims to situate German WWII images in terms of their continuities (and discontinuities) with pre-1933 German and broader European photographic trends. Why study photographs in such detail? In one way, scholars have considered the 1933-1945 period an exceptionally unique moment in German history, and in many ways it was. However, this period did not just spring out of nowhere – it developed, grew, and evolved from already established cultural norms and attitudes. Tracing the continuities and discontinuities of German and international visual culture through German WWII photographs will help us better understand what persevered after 1933, and what dramatically changed.

We also live in an era dominated by visuals. We are bombarded visuals and rely on them to consume information or understand a concept, from photographs, to film, to infographics; often this leaves us to take images for face value. By understanding the nuances of photography from such a destructive period, I hope that we can similarly understand and critically contemplate the images we see coming from conflict today.

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My Faculty Mentor

I am greatly honored this summer for having the privilege to have researched with Dr. Nick Pohlman. Having been selected for both the of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology Faculty of the Year Award aspohlman-nick well as the University Honors Great Professor Award, Dr. Pohlman proves that any student would be lucky to have him as a research mentor. His passion for research is paralleled by his dedication to teaching and mentoring aspiring engineers.

I have had the opportunity to have Dr. Pohlman not only as a mentor but also as a teacher. As a teacher Dr. Pohlman is exceptionally talented in his ability to clearly explain complicated theories and concepts. During one class, he derived a fundamental engineering equation; completing these steps took nearly an hour. While I would have had great difficulty following this derivation in the book, my classmates and I were able to follow every step as Dr. Pohlman patiently explained the process.  Throughout this summer, I have been able to apply problem solving strategies and computational programs learned in his class to analyze and interpret experimentally based findings. Taking a class with Dr. Pohlman before beginning my summer research has proved to be especially rewarding.

As a mentor Dr. Pohlman has provided me with all the guidance necessary to complete many different tasks this summer. Being well versed in his understanding of engineering concepts, he has always been able to provide analytical insight and advice to topics he doesn’t regularly teach but that have been come up during my research.  One of the things I appreciate most about my mentor is the many different aspects of engineering to which he has introduced me. Whether it was providing constructive criticism to technical writing or suggesting I analyze a problem from a different perspective, my interaction with Dr. Pohlman has helped enhance my understanding of the engineering profession.   Dr. Pohlman is a highly motivated professor who simultaneously manages many students and research projects. Even with such a busy schedule, he has put in a great deal of time to help me make significant progress on my honors capstone. His personable and encouraging disposition has made my summer research an extraordinary and enjoyable experience.

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Multiple projects with the same great mentor

studentfilmseries_bannerDuring this research endeavor, and even prior, my mentor has always provided me with valuable input on projects. Working with Professor Randy Caspersen has been more than a simple mentoring experience. It has been an opportunity to learn from a professional who has been in the field and to explore different media outlets and career opportunities.documentary-genre

As previously mentioned, in addition to the Honors Summer Scholars Program I have had several other opportunities to work on research with Professor Caspersen. Our mentoring relationship began last summer when Professor Caspersen agreed to be my mentor for the McKearn Summer Fellows Program. During that opportunity I was able to serve as the Associate Producer on a documentary about a local organization that gives young people with disabilities the opportunity to perform in musical theatre plays. Before that, I was informally mentored by Professor Caspersen through his instruction in a Studio Production course.

This current mentoring experience has been limited to mostly online and phone based interactions, as I am still only involved in the planning and pre-production phases of my research. Once I begin working on the actual production of the television show, I anticipate that I will work more closely with Professor Caspersen and that we will meet regularly to ensure that the proper plans are being made to produce the show. That being said, Professor Caspersen has truly helped with every step along the way. He has given me valuable insight into the TV world, as he came from working on Judge Judy, to shooting out ideas of different resources I should tap into to ensure the success of the show. He has directed me toward interesting things happening on campus that might make for a good segment and has also pushed me to think of this show in ways I hadn’t before.

FilmSwirlIt has been incredibly valuable to have a faculty mentor throughout the entire process of being an Honors Summer Scholar, especially one who has worked in the TV world. There are times where I have hit a snag and Professor Caspersen was right there with valuable insight to help me move forward. I am excited to see what this project will ultimately become, and I am grateful to have such a helpful and knowledgeable mentor to work with along the way.

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