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Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

two people working in the lab

2025 program dates will be available in October

Application will be available in October

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 given a university residence hall room (double occupancy) and a modest living allowance of $2,240 for the eight-week program (paid in two disbursements). Travel reimbursements up to $350 for flights and $250 for those driving personal vehicles to Athens are provided. 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 for a place in the 2026 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 2024 Faculty Mentors (subject to change).

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

Cory Baumann, 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.

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

The most important age-related diseases responsible for global human mortality are cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and liver diseases, all of which also significantly diminish the quality of life of the elderly. Epigenetic processes like chromatin modifications and DNA methylation incorporate the environmental cues to basic gene expression for every individual. Across the last decade, hundreds of studies showing a robust correlation between epigenetic dysregulation and lifespan have identified crucial epigenetic markers of aging and related pathologies. Dysfunctions in the epigenetic process of DNA methylation, which introduces a methyl group at the C5 position of cytosine in the C-phosphate-G (CpG) dinucleotide sequence in the DNA strand, result in accumulating mutations in genes as we age, often lead to age-related diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and autoimmune disorders. The specific group of proteins called DNA methyl transferases like DNMT3A and DNMT3B are responsible for the de novo methylation, while DNMT1 maintains the CpG methylation levels. Growth hormone (GH) is a pituitary hormone secreted from birth to death, which regulates longitudinal growth, organ development, and carbohydrate-lipid-protein metabolism and is a determinant of major human diseases and lifespan. In animals with decreased multiple pituitary hormones, including GH, a decreased total DNA methylation and suppressed level of DNMTs. Additionally, in human breast cancer, GH treatment was shown to upregulate DNMT3A and DNMNT3B in vitro directly. While studies in Ames dwarf mice suggest that aging and longevity are enhanced by reducing GH action, which in turn decreases total DNA methylation, the fact that these mice also lack prolactin and TSH limits this conclusion. The GHR knockout mice (GHR-/-) are long-lived, resistant to cancer and diet-induced diabetes, and have improved cognition. Since only GH action is disrupted in GHR-/- mice, these mice are uniquely capable of providing a direct answer to the role of GH alone, in regulating DNA methylation and expression of the responsible factors. Thus, based on the above, we hypothesize that GHR-/- mice will have reduced levels of DNA methyl transferase proteins DNMT1 and DNMT3a. The hypothesis will be verified through the following specific aims.

Specific aim-1: To quantify the total DNA methylation level between GHR-/- and wild-type (WT) mice. I am going to extract DNA from the liver to check global methylation levels of GHR-/- and WT mice of both sexes. 

Specific aim-2: To quantify the levels of DNMTs between GHR-/- and WT mice. We will extract RNA and nuclear protein from GHR-/- and WT mice of both sexes and quantify the total amount and activity of DNMTs. 

Methods: This study will utilize frozen liver tissue previously collected from 12-month-old GHR-/- and WT mice, both male and female, 6 in each group. Groups 1 and 2 consists of WT male and female that will serve as the controls. Groups 3 and 4 contain male and female GHR-/-. 

Student's role in the project.

A student will first be trained in basic and specific wet lab techniques. Upon acquiring technical proficiency, the student will start assisting research using the biochemical and molecular biological methods to extract DNA, RNA, and protein from frozen mouse tissues, measure enzyme activities in 96-well plate assays, and assess RNA and protein expression levels of specific genes using reverse transcription, quantitative PCR, and western-blots, Statistical analyses using students' t-test and ANOVA will also be applied for data analysis. Finally, compiling data and presentation to the laboratory in the final week meeting will be essential.

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.

Thomas Rosol, DVM, PhD, MBA

The Rosol laboratory investigates cancer metastasis, especially to bone, and metabolic diseases related to the cancer-related hypercalcemic factor, parathyroid hormone-related protein. We use molecular techniques, cell culture, bone tissue culture, pathology, and in vivo animal experiments using mouse models of cancer. In vivo imaging techniques include bioluminescence in vivo image of metastases. We are particularly interested in the pathogenic mechanisms for cancer metastasis to bone and how cancer regulates bone resorption and formation by modification of the bone marrow microenvironment.

Summer research students will interact with undergraduates, PhD graduate students, and a postdoc and learn basic laboratory techniques, such as RNA isolation, cell culture, and quantitative PCR. We have weekly in-person lab meetings for about 2 hours where we discuss research projects and students present their recent data. 

Nathaniel Szewczyk, PhD

We study Duchene Muscular Dystrophy.  This project will study individual differences in disease severity.  Specifically the student will examine reasons for individual differences in sensitivity to anesthesia.

Melissa Thomas, PhD

Dr. Melissa Thomas has worked on addressing health disparities in diverse population groups through community-engaged research and outreach models for over 25 years, with a specific emphasis in rural and Appalachia 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 activity will include collecting data at community programs/events, learning research design and methods, analyzing data, and co-authoring a peer reviewed presentation and/or publication.

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.