Small college research teams benefit from NE EPSCoR

December 19, 2017

Faculty and student boost skills in summer work with CRRI lab

Team science and computational biology are more than buzzwords for a Nebraska Wesleyan University biology student and faculty member, who ramped up these capabilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in summer 2017. A Nebraska EPSCoR program funded their opportunity to collaborate in a research university setting.

NWU Assistant Professor Adrianne Prokupek-Pickett and rising senior Dan Novinski, from Grand Island, learned computational biology skills by working with the Center for Root & Rhizobiome Innovation (CRRI). They temporarily joined the lab of Professor Etsuko Moriyama, who specializes in bioinformatics with UNL’s School of Biological Sciences.

”For a small-college faculty and student, I think it was a good opportunity to learn through UNL’s Holland Computing Center,” Moriyama said. “At the beginning of the summer, I encouraged them to attend HCC’s workshops where they obtained accounts and learned some basic commands and how to use their resources.”

Moriyama and Prokupek-Pickett agreed that the NWU pair would bring their own data, which was not plant-related, but Moriyama said, “Our bioinformatics method can be applied to data from any organisms (so) it actually was a chance to work on something (my group had) never seen, and test how our method can be applied to non-plant data. We hope to continue our collaboration.”

Prokupek-Pickett said the experience was “invaluable to my course development” and added: “A very important component of this summer research was being able to bring an undergraduate student along with me. The student and I worked side by side on this data, having a chance to interact as colleagues (instead of teacher-student) while we navigated the complex procedures. The student continued the final analysis steps with me during the fall.”

Novinski can now add “building a snake’s transcriptome”--the sum total of all the messenger RNA molecules expressed from the genes of an organism--to his résumé. His role was similar to participants in a “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” (REU) activity, but in this case he had the benefit of working closely with a faculty member from his own college.

Nebraska EPSCoR Outreach Coordinator Lindsey Moore praised the partnership: “Nebraska EPSCoR works to enhance the STEM education pipeline in our state, and created this visit program to add opportunities for teams comprised of a small college faculty member and undergraduate student. Our program focuses on primarily undergraduate schools, and provides research experiences related to science, technology, engineering, and math. Our goal is to increase the pool of potential students pursuing careers in these areas, and we see these experiences are opening students’ eyes to further possibilities, solidifying their interests, and making connections for their future progress in STEM. The faculty involved augment their careers and build professional relationships.”

Photo: Nebraska Wesleyan University biology student Dan Novinski shows research he conducted on a small college team through NSF-funded CRRI.

Nebraskan Wesleyan University biology student Dan Novinski shows research he conducted as part of a small college team via NSF-funded Center for Root & Rhizobiome Innovation, with Nebraska EPSCoR.