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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

two people working in the lab

Program Dates: May 20 - July 7, 2023

The SURF application will open on October 1, 2022.

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 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.

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

Growth hormone (GH) has been identified as a critical driver of therapy resistance in multiple major cancer types in human patients. The molecular underpinnings of GH regulation were identified as suppression of apoptosis, induction of EMT and upregulated drug efflux by increased expression of ATP-binding cassette containing multidrug efflux pumps (ABC-transporters). Studies from our laboratory have affirmed that blocking the GH action using an antagonist reduces the mechanisms of therapy evasion and re-sensitizes the tumor to existing therapeutic options. A critical question at this point is to ascertain the timing and modality of treatment of administering a GHR antagonist - before, after or co-administration alongside chemotherapy.

We will perform an in vitro followed by an in vivo query toward addressing this. Cell culture models of a panel of human tumor cells (breast, colon, melanoma, pancreatic cancers) will be differentially treated with FDR-approved GHR-antagonist Pegvisomant as well as a novel GHR antagonist recently developed in our laboratory. GHR antagonism will be preceded, succeeded or co-administered with appropriate chemotherapy treatments prescribed for respective cancer types. We will follow up our findings in the Nude mouse model with xenografts of selected tumor type and chemotherapy and selected regimens of GHR antagonism. Cell culture and post-mortem tissues will be queried for gene expression patterns responsible for GH-mediated therapy resistance.

Summer research students will be trained in basic wet lab techniques first, and upon acquiring technical proficiency, will start assisting research using the biochemical and molecular biological methods to measure expression levels of cancer marker genes and cell culture and assessment of chemo-resistance in center cell proliferation.

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.

Craig Nunemaker, PhD

Our work focuses on diabetes at the cellular level. Insulin is crucial to maintaining normal energy balance, and insulin is only made by micro-organs in the pancreas called Islets of Langerhans. My laboratory is investigating what early changes occur in these insulin-producing islets that contribute to the onset of diabetes in order to intervene before the disease develops. We currently have three projects focused on islet decline: 1) islets are working too hard to secrete too much insulin relative to the glucose they sense, 2) islets are responding aberrantly to chemical factors released by fat tissue in obesity, and 3) novel dual-action therapies to prevent loss of insulin.

Summer research students will learn how to design and conduct studies, collect and analyze data, and draw conclusions from their findings. Our lab utilizes fluorescence imaging approaches that students can master quickly to make meaningful and potentially publishable contributions. 

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.