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Sources: Samantha Wisely 785-532-0978, wisely@k-state.edu;
and Ari Jumpponen 785-532-6751, ari@k-state.edu
News release prepared by: Stephanie Jacques, 785-532-0101, sjacques@k-state.edu

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011

NEW PROGRAM OFFERS UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH OPPORTUNITIES IN ECOLOGICAL GENOMICS

MANHATTAN -- Kansas State University is offering a new undergraduate research program in ecological genomics.

The program begins in June and provides students with a $15,000 stipend and research experience for one year. Applications are now being accepted.

Samantha Wisely and Ari Jumpponen, both K-State associate professors of biology, have been awarded nearly $750,000 for the next five years from the National Science Foundation to administer the undergraduate research and mentoring in ecological genomics program.

"This grant is a major component that will aid underrepresented students at K-State in their education, furthering their career possibilities. It also provides fresh new minds and extra sets of hands in the research labs at K-State," Wisely said.

Each scholar participating in the program will be paired with a faculty member from the K-State Ecological Genomics Institute, an interdisciplinary research group that seeks to understand the genetic mechanisms underlying the short- and long-term responses of organisms to the natural environment. The students will be able to develop supplemental research projects that tie in with their mentor's research goals.

"There seems to be a misconception that if you are really smart, you have to become a medical doctor," Wisely said. "However, ecological genomics uses the latest biomedical techniques to explore ecology and evolution, creating a great way to sell evolutionary biology to very talented students who otherwise may not think about a career in ecological or evolutionary research."

The program will help the scholars develop an appreciation for an integrative scientific approach to hypothesis-based research, critical thinking skills, and a desire to continue their education in graduate level studies, Jumpponen said. Like many undergraduate students at K-State, the scholars may even have the opportunity to be included as a co-author on research papers published by their mentor.

"Having an excellent research experience is great for developing the major set of skills that employers look for when hiring new employees," Jumpponen said.

The program includes a summer field course, research mentored directly by faculty members, attendance at professional meetings, and various enhancement activities that foster and build skills needed for networking, communication, ethics and career development.

"The Developing Scholars Program at K-State will be one of the major sources for recruitment to the program," Jumpponen said. "Anita Cortez, the administrative director for the Developing Scholars Program, does a wonderful job mentoring students and preparing them for work in a research lab."

The Developing Scholars Program at K-State offers historically underrepresented students a network of peer and professional individuals who can provide them with academic, social and financial support during the students' experiences in research labs across the university.

"The Undergraduate Research Mentoring Program through Drs. Wisely and Jumpponen is a great opportunity and an advantage for some of our Developing Scholars, because it has a good financial reward for a lot of hard work and interesting hands-on experiences for a year," Cortez said.

Students in the program may be asked to serve as a peer recruiter for future applicants, and will be strongly encouraged to participate in Girls Researching Our World, a K-State women in engineering and science program that encourages girls in the sixth through eighth grades to pursue futures in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Both activities will further communication about science to individuals with limited scientific backgrounds, Wisely said.

"Although talking to somebody who has absolutely no background in science about what you are researching is probably one of the more difficult things to do, learning how to teach and how to communicate it is sometimes the best way to learn," Wisely said. "This adds yet another positive dimension to our undergraduate research and mentoring program."

More information about the undergraduate research and mentoring in ecological genomics program is available by contacting Wisely at 785-532-0978 or wisely@k-state.edu; or Jumpponen at 785-532-6751 or ari@k-state.edu.