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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

two people working in the lab

Program Dates: 2024 Dates to Come

The SURF application is currently closed and will open again in the fall of 2023. 

Program Description

Participants in the SURF program work under the guidance of a faculty member to expose students to the challenges, excitement, and satisfaction of research.

Selection is based on academic records and the appropriateness of the applicant’s scientific interests. Students about to begin their senior year of college or recent graduates are preferred, but promising juniors may also apply.

Participants are provided with room, a modest living allowance, and up to a $350 travel reimbursement. In addition, program participants who meet the minimum requirements for admission to Heritage College, including having taken the MCAT, will be offered an opportunity to interview during the summer for a place in the next fall's entering class.

Required Supplemental Application Materials

  • Two letters of recommendation from natural science faculty who taught you in class; OR one letter of recommendation from a natural science faculty member and one from a social science faculty member who taught you in class; OR one letter of recommendation from a premedical/health professions advising committee
  • Official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions you have attended

Instruct your recommenders to include the course(s) they taught you within their letters. Arrange to have your letters of recommendation/evaluation and transcripts sent to Heritage College, 191 West Union Street, Admissions Ste. 167, Athens, OH, 45701. Documents may be sent through regular U.S. mail, Interfolio, VirtualEvals, or emailed directly to

SURF 2023 Faculty Mentors (subject to change).

You can select and rank up to five faculty mentors with whom you would like to work. This information will also appear in your SURF application portal.


Cory Beaumann, PhD

The Baumann Laboratory focuses on elucidating the neuromuscular mechanisms of skeletal muscle weakness caused by aging and myopathies using mice that mimic or replicate frailty, muscular dystrophies, or alcoholic myopathy. Central to this work is to determine why skeletal muscle from these specific populations may be less stress resistant, resilient, and adaptable. And, how loss of these stress responses ultimately impacts muscle function. To accomplish this work, the Baumann Laboratory uses various physiological techniques and equipment to assess muscular function in mice that includes a rotarod, treadmill, running wheels, grip strength meter, and ex vivo and in vivo muscle contractility testing. Overall, the Baumann Laboratory seeks to improve functionality and health span in frail and myopathic skeletal muscle through diagnosis, treatment, and prevention efforts.

Students will learn basic laboratory techniques and observe various functional tests used on mice, and learn key points of data collection and interpretation. 


Berkeley Franz, PhD

We currently have funding through the National Institute on Drug Abuse for two studies on access to opioid use disorder treatment in underserved communities. In the first study, we are focused on understanding barriers to buprenorphine (Suboxone) prescribing among rural-located primary care providers and developing a training intervention to decrease stigma and improve willingness to treat patients with opioid use disorder. In the second study, we are exploring how hospitals implement programs to help patients transition out of the hospital into treatment programs and developing implementation plans to help hospitals in underserved communities offer these programs effectively.  


Summer research students will participate in-depth interviews with treatment providers, gain experience with both qualitative and quantitative data analysis, participate in a dynamic research team studying opioid use disorder, and learn to prepare peer-reviewed manuscripts and conference presentations of study findings.  

Mario Grijalva, PhD

Tropical Disease Research in Ecuador: Epidemiological, entomological and clinical studies in rural communities of Ecuador. 

Activities will focus on the collection and analysis of biological material in the field (mobile laboratory) and further analysis of samples and data at the Center for Research on Health in Latin America in Quito, Ecuador.

Summer research students will travel to Ecuador and will participate in both research and service activities. All participants will contribute to regular group reflections and participate in the creation of conditions that prevent and control Chagas disease and promote healthy living. Please note that the dates of this experience may differ from the posted SURF program dates.

Allyson Hughes, PhD

My research in behavioral medicine 1) evaluates diabetes self-management and 2) characterizes the experience of severe hypoglycemia. Through my research, I seek to promote advocacy and impact federal policy by amplifying the voices of people with diabetes and caregivers alike.

The purpose of this study is to provide education to adults about diabetes and glucagon administration. We will assess knowledge about diabetes and glucagon administration before and after the training. This study will also provide online training to adults about diabetes and glucagon administration.

Summer research students will achieve awareness and understanding of recruitment techniques, gain insight into data collection and methodology, and understand data analysis and how to interpret data.

John Kopchick, PhD and Nick Okada, PhD

Transcriptomic and Proteomic Assessment of Molecular Mechanisms of GH Action in a Nude Mouse Model of Cholangiocarcinoma.

Cancer of the bile duct – cholangiocarcinoma (CC) – is a rare cancer in United States, with a dismal five-year survival rate of 9%. The alarming prognosis is a consequence of poor response to therapy, high levels of intrinsic therapy resistance,  and a high metastatic potential of this cancer type. Globally in 2022, new 115,939 cases of CC were diagnosed, and  the 2022 global mortality to CC was 84,695 – highlighting a pressing need for a novel therapeutic approach. We have identified the growth hormone receptor (GHR) as a unique target in CC, which can transform the current therapeutic outcome. Both GHR and its cognate ligand growth hormone (GH) are expressed in CC tumor cells as well as several cell types (adipocyte, fibroblast, immune cells) of the tumor microenvironment (TME) – creating a robust autocrine / paracrine loop. This GH-GHR action not only hyperactivates tumor growth, but also promotes immune evasion, drug resistance, metastasis and therapy tolerance in the tumor. Moreover, GH is the primary inducer of  >75% of the serum insulin like growth factor 1 (IGF1), which is a well-established cancer target, and GH action also promotes insulin resistance another factor contributing to markedly poor prognosis in cancer. Our laboratory had discovered the only FDA approved inhibitor of GHR activation – a protein antagonist of the GHR called ‘pegvisomant’, which is currently marketed by Pfizer for the treatment of acromegaly (a condition of GH excess causing gigantism, multi-organ pathologies and pre-mature death). Therefore, we rationally hypothesized that a GHR antagonist can be an effective adjunct therapy in CC. Our in silico analysis of CC patient data and in vitro experiments with human CC cell lines exhibit that pegvisomant blocks multiple oncogenic pathways and suppress expression of markers of drug efflux, metastasis and invasive tumor growth in CC. Furthermore, we observed that a combination of pegvisomant with gemcitabine-cisplatin (G/C), the current primary line of treatment in CC, was significantly more effective in controlling the growth of human cholangiocarcinoma xenografts on Nude mice compared to G/C alone. In this current part of this pre-clinical study, we will be assessing the underlying changes in gene expression of markers of GH/IGF signaling, drug efflux, metastasis, cancer stem cells, apoptosis and fibrosis at the RNA and protein levels to validate the effects of pegvisomant on CC tumors in vivo. The project will undertake extraction of RNA and protein from the tumors obtained from the in vivo study. Extracted RNA will be reverse transcribed to cDNA and gene-sets for the aforementioned processes will be evaluated by real-time quantitative PCR. Protein expressions will be evaluated by western-blot as well as immunohistochemistry of paraffin embedded tumor samples followed by fluorescent microscopy. The observations will be subjected to relevant statistical analyses and incorporated as a key part of a manuscript in preparation.

Summer research students will have training in basic wet lab techniques first. Upon acquiring technical proficiency, the student will start assisting research using the biochemical and molecular biological methods to measure expression levels of above mentined genes and gene products.

Yang Li, PhD

We investigate how cells communicate in the brain and how neural disorders (stroke, epilepsy & Alzheimer's disease) affect the brain function/structure. We employ small animal, cellular, molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches to address fundamental questions pertaining to the brain zinc. We study the action of rising zinc in neuronal transmission, and whether zinc found in the brain is involved in ischemic brain injury. Recently, we studied and identified that zinc is an active inhibitory factor in tPA-induced thrombolysis. tPA is the only drug available and approved to treat ischemic stroke. Our findings post a new look inside how tPA-induced thrombolysis is regulated by clot-contents, such as zinc and other metal ions, and potentially yield a new regiment of stroke treatment.

Summer research students will participate in lab research activities, learn and participate in small animal handling and surgery, and learn to prepare lab reports and research data analysis.

Melissa Thomas, PhD

Melissa Thomas has worked on addressing health disparities in diverse population groups through community-engaged research and outreach models for over 20 years, with a specific emphasis in rural and Appalachian Ohio. Key focus areas include reducing the burden of cancer among Amish and Mennonite women, identifying health outcomes and coping strategies of food insecurity, improving patient outcomes within the LGBTQIA+ community and addressing social determinants of health.

Summer research students will develop research goals in collaboration with Dr. Thomas.


Shaohua Wang, PhD

We study Clostridioides difficile infection (CDI). One of our important research branches is gut microbiome and gut health, to study how our gut microbiome affect gut health, and how to improve gut microbiome to combat CDI. To improve gut microbiome, we are isolating and identifying new probiotics as gut microbiome modulators. We will go further to determine their effects on gut microbiome and CDI both in vitro and in vivo with mice. 

Summer research students will participate in lab research activities, get general microbial training, as well as mice handling skills, learn how to analyze research results, prepare and report data.


Shouan Zhu, PhD

My lab's overall research focus is to understand how different risk factors such as aging and obesity interact to cause osteoarthritis (OA) via affecting metabolic pathways. We recently discovered that Sirt5 and its regulation on protein post-translational malonylation (MaK) are playing an important role in chondrocyte metabolism during aging and obesity. We are investigating: 1. How MaK is regulated/disregulated; 2. How MaK affects OA development using mouse models; 3. What are the downstream enzyme targets for MaK.