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The Honors College Chronicles

On to Hong Kong

Gina Russo

Studying abroad can be scary for many students, but for Robert E. Cook Honors College junior Gina Russo it will be a cinch. Before beginning a year of study this fall at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Russo spent her summer at the Middlebury Language Institute in Vermont, where she was able to further her study of the Chinese language.

“When I first got there,” she remembered, “I could barely say ‘Hello, my name is Gina.’ But by August, I was able to finish a full essay on American beliefs of educational systems (without using a dictionary).”

The second Robert E. Cook Honors College student in two years to receive one of thirty-eight national grants from Phi Kappa Phi national honor society for study abroad, Russo went to Hong Kong in August and will be there until May. She described Middlebury as an “intensive language program designed to immerse its applicants in their target language so they can best learn how to communicate in Chinese or one of the eight other languages the institute offers.”

A unique aspect of the program, she said, is the language pledge, signed by all students the day before classes begin, that says they will not speak, read, listen to, or expose themselves to languages other than their targeted one. During classes, private tutoring sessions, free time, and even at meals, Russo spoke no language but Chinese.

In addition to four hours of class work each day, there were lectures on Chinese art and culture, movies, and parties every weekend. “The parties were the one time we could listen to English music,” Russo said, “since it’s more fun to dance to English music.”

With demonstrable results in her language acquisition, Russo was confident in the progress she made at Middlebury. “Not only did I learn a lot of Chinese, [but] I also felt comfortable in a setting where people spoke only Chinese, which I knew would be helpful later on.” Her understanding of the cultural and historical aspects of China also expanded.

Perhaps the most important thing Middlebury gave Russo was the ability “to make connections with this generation, and probably the next generation, of Asian scholars.”

Stem Cell Research

Kristen Taddie with University of Utah professor Gerald Spangrude

As part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates program, Robert E. Cook Honors College student Kristen Taddie spent last summer at the University of Utah conducting an independent research project.  She was involved in conjugating antibodies to fluorochromes; these antibodies will be used in stem cell lines.

An IUP Natural Sciences and Pre-Optometry major from Homer City, Taddie was selected to participate in the rigorous research program, which involved some fifteen undergraduate biology and biochemistry majors doing research for nine weeks. “We met once a week for lunch and discussed our research,” Taddie said. “We took a class to prepare us for the Graduate Record Examination, attended weekly seminars, and went on a couple of field trips.” Everyone was required to write a paper and to create a poster on his or her own research to present at the end of the program.

“I worked on purifying antibodies and conjugating them to fluorochromes.  In other words, my research involved developing a protocol for the best way to unite antibodies to any of various fluorescent substances used in biological staining to produce fluorescence in a specimen. The conjugated antibodies I made will be used as reagents in stem cell lines for major projects, and the protocol will be used to make more fluorescently labeled antibodies.”

Stem cell research may be hard to communicate, but Taddie’s interest in science began in high school with “fascinating labs and hands-on work” that she has always enjoyed. The direct study of stem cell research is something she believes is “fairly novel,  and I think a lot of discoveries and cures can come from it.”

The REU program led Taddie to the laboratory of Gerald Spangrude, professor of medicine in the University of Utah Division of Hematology. Most of Spangrude’s work is focused on his research, while he also teaches a few classes. His lab works with various models of stem cell biology and focuses on hematopoiesis–the formation of blood or blood cells in the living body.

“In addition to learning countless lab techniques,” Taddie said, “I learned that if you want to go to graduate school, you really need to be motivated to do research. I worked at least forty hours a week, Dr. Spangrude and the graduate students were always there, and, most of the time, they wanted to be.”

Perhaps most valuable to Taddie from her time in the REU program were the new lab skills she learned, not to mention the old ones on which she improved. “I feel I’m more prepared to make my own decisions regarding what project I want to tackle next,” she said, “because I understand more of why I do things. I’m a lot more confident in my lab work.”