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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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My Mentor Team

My research experience with my mentor, Dr. Bode, actually began last summer while I was working in two other laboratories in the NIU biology department studying multiple myeloma as well as completing a bioinformatics internship. I would often see Dr. Bode around the department and soon had the opportunity to interact with him on a more personal level during several events in the biology department. One such event was the monthly meetings hosted by the BIOS Cancer Research Club that I attended whenever possible. The meetings are an opportunity for the faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students to share their research experiences and become familiar with the work that our colleagues as well as guest speakers from other universities are conducting.

Once I learned about the Honors Scholars position, I asked Dr. Bode if he would be willing to be my mentor. Several of Dr. Bode’s lab members had recently graduated which gave me the opportunity to fill one of the vacancies in the lab. After my initial meeting with Dr. Bode to discuss how my project would be conducted, it became apparent that I would need to use the skills I had learned during my bioinformatics internship and would need help on some of the more difficult Linux programming tasks. Thankfully, Dr. Yanbin Yin – who I had completed my bioinformatics internship with the previous summer – was willing to work with me.

Dr. Yin

Dr. Yin

Dr. Bode

Dr. Bode

Over the course of the next few weeks, I met with Dr. Yin often to discuss which datasets to analyze and to compile a matrix of the data we would use as well as a list of the genes we would study. Dr. Yin then completed some of the more complicated programming to normalize the data before sending it to me for further analysis. We also met with Dr. Bode several times in order to make sure that we fully understood the data we were comparing and learn more about the characteristics of liver cancer. After Dr. Yin normalized the data, I constructed heatmaps and graphs and presented our findings to Dr. Bode.

Working with Dr. Bode and Dr. Yin has been a great experience and has taught me the values of collaboration and problem solving. I have been able to use the skills I learned last summer in order to provide Dr. Bode with relevant data regarding the expression of amino acid transporters in human and mouse liver cancer. Bioinformatics was something Dr. Bode did not have much experience in, and Dr. Yin had not studied liver cancer. Because of my previous exposure to both fields, I was able to help bridge the knowledge gap between my mentors and provide them with novel findings about amino acid transporters in liver cancer.

Dr. Bode has also introduced me to several other aspects of research that I would not have had the opportunity to learn about in a classroom setting. For instance, Dr. Bode and I met yesterday in order to discuss my poster for the 2014 Summer Research Symposium. Dr. Bode was very helpful and provided insightful critiques of my writing and poster format. I also learned even more about how liver cancer functions and some of the latest treatments that are being tested. Working together, Dr. Bode and I were able to interpret our data and reach scientifically sound conclusions. Without his knowledge of liver cancer, it would have been very difficult for me to have my poster critiqued in a manner that preserved the essence of my conclusions while still being scientifically accurate. With Dr. Bode’s help, I now have a greater understanding of the characteristics of liver cancer and feel confident about the findings of our research.

Summer Research Symposium 2014

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Alternate frame of view

KubyOne of the best benefits of the Honors Scholars Program is working with an expert in my field. Dr. Emma Kuby from the Department of History is working with me on this project, and her guidance and advice has been, and continues to be, invaluable. I walked into Dr. Kuby’s office earlier this year with an idea to take my study of German photographs above and beyond, and her background in modern French history has taken this idea to a dimension I never imagined. Dr. Kuby has helped me “read” German photographs differently by situating them in alternate contexts, like colonial French photography for example.Picture

In addition to knowledge on the subject, working with a faculty mentor has been essential in guiding the project as it takes shape. Dr. Kuby helps keep me on track, challenges me to ask provocative historical questions, helps me work around the barriers of research, and encourages me every step of the way. Having guidance from an expert in my field has influenced my development as a student, researcher, and historian. Knowing that yet another faculty mentor supports and believes in my work truly makes all the difference.

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Research inspires analytic, critical, and practical thinking skills

Since I transferred to NIU in the fall of 2013, I have been continually looking for ways to become involved and enhance my academic experience.  One way I was able to do this was through involvement in the University Honors Program. Being an honors student has allowed me to have many opportunities, including participation in various field trips and special projects.  The projects have been particularly interesting and are focused on the development of analytical skills. Another way I was able to complete this goal of mi­ne was to become an undergraduate research assistant (URA). The URA program allowed me to complete research on Fermilab’s particle physics experiment: Muons to Electrons. During the fall and spring semesters of last year, my research focus was to give mechanical engineering design support to the experiment by developing and analyzing multiple structural pieces.

As the beginning of this summer approached, I explored options that might allow me to continue and expand my research. When I discovered the University Honors Summers Scholars program, it was clear that this was the perfect opportunity. The research I have been completing this summer has allowed me to focus on multiple engineering aspects; each has helped me to acquire new skills. I have been able to develop a “rail and support stand” layout. Completing this task has required me to learn industrial standards and cost optimization. I have also established an installation procedure which details the sequence of inserting of multiple components into a 46 foot long vacuum solenoid. This task has challenged me to develop my technical writing ability. Lastly, I have been gaining proficiency with two engineering software programs: ProEngineer and ANSYS.

I thoroughly enjoy this research because it improves my abilities as an engineer as I must think analytically, critically, and practically. Another benefit that comes from this research is the experience of analyzing and analytical thinkinginterpreting complicated data. This knowledge will be very useful as I continue my research pursuits at the graduate level. One of the aspects I enjoy most about my summer research is having the privilege to work with knowledgeable engineers and physicists. This interaction allows me to learn from those who are experts in their field. So far this experience has been very educational, and has prepared me for many aspects of my future career.

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The importance of storytelling

While my current research project is not within what one might think of as a traditional field of research, I do believe it is still something important to study. Individuals and communities are drawn together by television programming. This opportunity to offer an outlet for the community is one of my goals for this project. I believe that the television programming that is drawn from this research will be an effective outlet to bring new light to the NIU/DeKalb and offer opportunities that may not have previously been available for the University, students, and businesses alike.

There lives a great storyteller In the heart of a great communicator.

Throughout my years of schooling I have been involved in theater, creative writing, journalism, and film. I have always been interested in sharing information with an audience. Communication studies have always appealed to me because of my love of storytelling. That, in a sense, is what brought me to do research on communication this summer. In my years at NIU I have had the opportunity to focus intensively on the television and film component of storytelling. Last summer I had the opportunity as a McKearn Fellow to work on a documentary about a local organization, The Penguin Project, that provides children with disabilities the opportunity to be a part of a musical theater show. While this opportunity gave me greater insight into the craft of storytelling through film, I was also alerted to the fact that very few people within the NIU community had even heard of the Penguin Project. My television program will hopefully be able to shed light on organizations such as this, as well as DeKalb businesses or things that are happening on campus. In my time as a Communications student I have also yearned for a program of this caliber; a weekly or biweekly show. While the classes within the department offer some good insight into how to produce programming for an individual event (such as an end of semester show or five minute interview) I hope that this program will be able to provide students with that next step of producing a regular show to be aired for an audience.

I hope that this project will provide Communications students with not only an outlet to hone their television production skills, but that it will give me a good foundation for future studies related to me and will allow me to continue to develop my passion for storytelling.

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Family lineage of physicians

My journey to medical school, and thus research, began at a very early age. I was fortunate to have a grandfather, father and uncle who were all physicians who exposed me to healthcare from early on. Growing up, I wouldoften hear how rewarding it was to be able to help alleviate the suffering of patients. This early exposure to healthcare shaped my goals and cemented my desire to help people in need. Although I wanted to be in healthcare for some time, I finally decided to pursue a medical degree when I was in high school. This desire stemmed from watching the movie “Gifted Hands” about the life of Dr. Ben Carson which awakened in me a desire to pursue surgery. I was fascinated by and wanted to devote my life to studying science and in particular how the human body functions. My newly discovered passion for surgery, in addition to a desire to study cancer, has led me to pursue surgical oncology.

Cancer research has been a passion of mine for many years because both of my grandfathers passed away from cancer before I was two years old. This has served as one of my main motivators for studying medicine. Before starting my undergraduate degree, it was my goal to study cancer and get my research published as an undergraduate. I have been fortunate to work in three separate laboratories at Northern Illinois University and have accomplished my goal of having my discoveries published. While at NIU, I have had the unique opportunity to study multiple myeloma and hepatocyte carcinoma which are the two types of cancers that claimed my grandfathers’ lives. I have also had the opportunity to work in a bioinformatics lab and have utilized the skills I acquired during my internship in my current project studying liver cancer.

One aspect of cancer research I have really enjoyed is the amount of self-interest patients have in the latest developments for the treatment of their disease. Patient interaction has caused me to realize that cancer research is not limited to the laboratory, but also the importance our work has on the patients and families who are affected by the disease. While working in a cancer research laboratory at NIU, patients have gladly offered to donate samples of their tissues for our use. I hope to integrate the knowledge and experiences that I have gained while conducting cancer research at NIU in my future career as a surgeon. I am confident that I will be able to treat my patients more successfully thanks to the initial foundation of knowledge I have learned first-hand while conducting cancer research at NIU.Joel working in Bode lab pic for Honors blog_1