Columbia University Medical Center


Report on the Summer 2011 Activities of SPURS:
A Biomedical Research Program


With funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Fund and other generous private donations, the SPURS program was able to accommodate 12 applicants: 9 female and 2 male; 2 Hispanic-Americans, 9 African –American and 1 Caucasian. In addition to the CUNY students from Hunter, Brooklyn and Queens Colleges, we had a student from Syracuse University and one from Amherst College. As the reputation of the program continues to grow we unfortunately must turn down qualified students due to funding constraints. Dr. Andrew Marks, Founder and Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento, Executive Director reviewed 15 applications and selected the 12 most qualified students. The 2011 participants were; Isabel Rodriguez, Laurel Anyaehie, Reunet Rodney-Sandy, Gerri Connaught, Beni Mfitidi, Lamia Harik, Stephanie Christie, Firmause Payen, Eric Davis, Godly Jack, Roshney Licorish, and Diana Carrillo and their research program and mentors were;
1) Isabel Rodriguez - Project title – “Engineering Genetically Encoded Calcium Channel Modulators”, Mentor – Dr. Henry Colecraft, Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics.
2) Laurel Anyaehie – Project title – “Effect of the dual PI3-Kinase/mTOR inhibitor NVP-BEZ235 on Vascular Smooth Muscle Cell Proliferation and Migration”, Mentor – Dr. Andrew Marks, Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics.
3) Reunet Rodney-Sandy – Project title – “Protein Purification Contributes to an InVitro Translational System”, Mentor – Dr. Virginia Cornish, Department of Chemistry.
4) Gerri Connaught – Project title – “Exploring Mechanisms of Early Sensory Axon Targeting in the Drosophila Central Nervous System”, Mentor – Dr. Wesley Grueber, Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics.

5) Beni Mfitidi – Project title – “Cigarette Smoke – induced neutral sphingomyelinase 2 signaling is independent of TLR-4 mediated matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1) expression”, Mentor – Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento, Department of Medicine.

6) Lamia Harik – needed to be out of the country during the poster session so provided a paper in lieu of the poster presentation to her mentor, Dr. Andrew Marks, Department of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics.

7) Stephanie Christie – Project title – “Developing A New Sorting Strategy For Isolating Merkel Cells”, Mentor – Dr. Ellen Lumpkin, Department of Dermatology.
8) Firmause Payen – Project title - “LAM/AML cells exhibit mesenchymal progenitor cell phenotype”, Mentor - Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento, Department of Medicine.
9) Eric Davis – Project title – “Segregation of Visual and Olfactory information in the Entorhinal Cortex”, Mentor – Dr. Richard Axel, Department of Neuroscience


10) Godly Jack – Project title – “The Role of Macrophage – specific Expressed MMP1 and Smoking in Lung Metastasis”, Mentor, Dr. Jeanine D’Armiento, Department of Medicine.

11) Roshney Licorish – Project title – “Caspase Activation in Apoptotic Macrophages during Atherosclerosis”, Mentor – Dr. Ira Tabas, Department of Medicine.

12) Diana Carrillo – Project title – “Inducible Motor Neuron Death in Mice as a Genetic Model for Early Motor Neuron Disease”, Mentor – Dr. Angela Christiano, Departments of Dermatology and Genetics & Development.

The program began on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 with an orientation led by Kiki Korikis, Director of the SPURS program. The students were given an overview of the program and what the expectations of them would be for the summer. In addition, administrative details were addressed, such as; their stipends, ID’s, training sessions, etc. The program met on a weekly basis throughout the summer where speakers were brought in to provide insight into their decision making process regarding medical/Ph.D programs, their medical school years and the important aspects to focus on to ensure a successful academic experience as well as how they thought about what the next steps would be and how they got to where they are today. The panel of speakers included; Ex Mayor David Dinkins, Drs. Hilda Hutcherson, Andrew Marks, Henry Colecraft, Anne Taylor, Jeanine D’Armiento, and David Kazadi. The Wednesday sessions were also a time for the Founder, Executive Director and Director to monitor the students growth during the summer and address any issues or concerns as well as an opportunity to take care of housekeeping items such as the distribution of their checks.

There were a series of other activities as well, such as;

• An expanded mentoring session with students from Columbia’s Medical and Graduate schools – MD, PhD, and MD.PhD candidates.

• Dr. D’Armiento presented a “How to Present” session for the students which was one of the high points of the program.

• Each SPURS student was required to prepare and present a ten-minute oral presentation on their research projects to the group and Drs. Marks and D’Armiento, who provided valuable feedback.

• A visit to the new Yankee Stadium for a baseball game.

• Reception at the New York Academy of Sciences.

The 2011 program culmination on Wednesday, August 3, 2011, was when each of the students presented their research in a poster session. This session was attended by mentors, post-docs, faculty, graduate students and family members. The poster session served as an excellent tool to help the students synthesize their 10 weeks of research.

At the conclusion of the summer, the students completed an online post program survey. There was a 90% completion rate. The survey included; satisfaction with the program, lab, and learning experience. The results showed 90% of the students thought the program was an excellent education experience that would enhance their returning college skills. The students rated the program at 100% as a valuable experience.

The mentors were required to complete a survey regarding the summer experience from their perspective. There was a 70% completion rate.

In a fitting closing, let us share with you a few of the comments recorded in the students’ and mentors’ evaluations of the SPURS Program this past summer:

"Everyone was very helpful, patient, and nurturing. The speaker series was also a highlight in terms of life lessons and in assisting future career directions."
"The program has greatly increased my career focus as well as my knowledge of what I need to do to take the next step in my academic process."
"The program was a great experience and the lab I was assigned to gave me a lot of support."
"In a nut shell, this program was more than just a research experience, it was a life experience. I was able to immerse myself in a supportive educational environment and at the same time, make great friends who hopefully will be future fellow colleagues."