Research Highlights / Full Story

Faculty members in the College of Science are helping to prepare deaf and hard-of-hearing students for graduate school by making the research experience more accessible. The program, Undergraduate Research and Mentoring for Deaf Students in Biology, is led by Dr. Hyla Sweet and Dr. Dina Newman, faculty members in the School of Biological and Medical Sciences, through a National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research and Mentoring (NSF-URM) grant.

"Historically, deaf and hard-of-hearing students have not been involved in under graduate research—an important part of the education experience," says Sweet. "This program makes the undergraduate research experience accessible to these students and provides them with the skills to be successful in graduate school."

Students who are selected for the NSF-URM Fellowship are matched with a research mentor and work side-by-side for two years, conducting research and gaining exposure to the research community. "I am learning how to communicate scientifically," says Alicia Wooten, a 4th year undergraduate student in biomedical sciences and a NSF-URM Fellow paired with Sweet. "Presenting my research at the Undergraduate Research and Innovation Symposium has given me confidence in my research."

The pair is expanding on Sweet's research in developmental biology that examines the evolution of development and development changes through time that result in different body plans in animals. Using sea urchins as a model, the research team has been studying the expression patterns and function of certain developmental genes.

"Sea urchins provide a good model for studying evolution," explains Wooten. "They have an extensive fossil background that provides us with significant data to accurately compare our findings to."

Their studies have already uncovered significant differences in both expression and function. As they continue to examine more genes they are building a more complete picture to better understand how the genes are interacting to affect the expression, function, and overall differences.

The program has already successfully graduated its first cohort in May 2010. Kevin Keller, one of the program's first fellows was accepted into the Ph.D. program at Michigan State University in ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior. Another one of the Fellows, Jeff Barnette, is enrolled in the environmental science graduate program at RIT.