Institute Report, April 2006
By Wendy Lovell
The institutionalization of undergraduate research at VMI was the topic of speech given by Col. James E. Turner to the American Chemical Society (ACS) at its 231st national meeting last month in Atlanta.
Sponsored by the ACS’s Division of Chemical Education, the talk focused on the five-year history of the Undergraduate Reasearch Initiative (URI) and how it has become a model for other higher education institutions. Turner oversees the URI as director of the office of undergraduate research.
Some of the keys to the success of VMI’s URI are support by the faculty and administration, financial backing by the Jackson-Hope Fund and VMI Research Laboratories, a designated staff to support the program, and a URI faculty committee that formulates its policies, said Turner. He also discussed supporting programs like the Summer Undergraduate Research Institute, URI spring symposium, New Horizons undergraduate research journal, and support for student travel and research.
At the conference, Turner partnered with Cadet Jessica Fulton ’06 and Maj. Daniel McCain, assistant professor of chemistry, to present a research poster entitled “Estrogen’s Role in Retina Neuroprotection and Optic Nerve Regeneration in the Adult Zebrafish (Danio rerio)” in the Division of Medicinal Chemistry. The work represented Fulton’s Institute Honors thesis research and her interest in how brain estrogen is involved with protecting damaged neurons and allowing them to regenerate with return of lost function. Turner said this work is considered groundbreaking in terms of understanding the mechanisms that drive such a successful regenerative response resulting in the zebrafish seeing again 60 to 90 days after optic nerves are crushed.
Upon graduation, Fulton will pursue a master’s degree in divinity at Ashbury Theological Seminary in Ohio. She plans to combine her biology and theology interests in a doctorate degree in bioethics, and she hopes her research eventually will help create effective treatments for brain conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.