PBSC hosts undergraduate life sciences symposium
More than 200 life science undergraduate students and faculty descended upon Palm Beach State College’s Palm Beach Gardens campus on Saturday, April 1, for the fifth annual Life Sciences South Florida STEM Undergraduate Research Symposium.
At this largest symposium to date, attendees heard guest speakers, visited with exhibiting companies and schools, and participated in a research competition. Students presented original life science research projects, competing for first, second and third place awards. The institutions represented were Barry University, Broward College, Florida Atlantic University, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida International University, Florida Memorial University, Indian River State College, Miami Dade College, Nova Southeastern University, St. Thomas University, the University of Miami and Palm Beach State College.
PBSC President Ava L. Parker’s welcome remarks focused on the critical need to keep talent local in order to grow the life sciences economy. In highlighting Palm Beach State’s STEM programs, she said, “Our undergraduate students are an integral element of the life sciences community. Without them, South Florida would not have the infrastructure pipeline for a robust research community.”
Other speakers included Saif Ishoof, FIU’s vice president for engagement; Karen Marcus, president of Sustainable Palm Beach County and a former longtime county commissioner, who gave the keynote address; and Dr. Brian Paegel, associate professor in The Scripps Research Institute’s Department of Chemistry. Michael Butts, a PBSC Biotechnology program graduate and 2014 LSSF Symposium oral presentation winner, discussed how he built a successful career in the life sciences industry and his current work at Ocean Ridge Biosciences.
At the event’s industry showcase, representatives from regional graduate and medical schools met with students to discuss admissions criteria, life science companies promoted employment and internship opportunities, and Palm Beach State’s Ophthalmic Medical Technology and Engineering Technology programs displayed equipment and technologies. Student volunteers from PBSC’s Biotechnology program and General Chemistry 2 laboratory course assisted visitors. Mascots from several schools, including PBSC’s Palmer the Panther, made appearances.
Life science faculty from all LSSF member institutions served as judges to determine the best oral and poster presentations.
Oral Presentation Winners:
1st Place: Ezana Assefa, Nova Southeastern University. Talk Title: “Sleep deprivation results in increased expression of cancer-related miRNA in humans”
2nd Place: Jorge Monroy, Indian River State College. Talk Title: “Stock origins of Steller sea lions in Alaska: Chiswell Island rookery.”
3rd Place: Diarra Dia, Florida Memorial University. Talk Title: “Synthesis, Partial Characterization, and In Vitro Anticancer Activity of Indanocine Analogues Bearing Indanone-Aldehyde Rings Putatively Targeting Tubulin.”
Poster Presentation Winners:
1st Place: Danielle Bartz, Florida Atlantic University. Poster Title: “Diet and temporal partitioning by the common octopus and the Atlantic longarm octopus in a South Florida habitat.”
2nd Place: Zoe Cosner, University of Miami. Poster Title: “Assembly of mitochondrial supercomplexes in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.”
3rd Place: Jonathan Rivera, Florida Atlantic University. Poster Title: “How did I get here? Selective activation of head direction cells.”
The symposium winners received technology prizes, including iPads, Beats wireless headphones and Apple TVs. All participants were entered into a raffle for six Hewlett Packard printers, sponsored by FIU’s Office of Business Services. Symposium costs were paid for by LSSF member institutions, with support from PBSC’s National Science Foundation InnovATE grant. Dr. Becky Mercer, director of PBSC Biotechnology programs and STEM Education and the principal investigator for the NSF InnovATE grant, organized the event with the help of Dr. Alexandra Gorgevska, PBSC department chair for Natural Sciences and Biotechnology, and Alexina Alonso, coordinator of administrative services for FIU’s Office of Engagement. Robert Van Der Velde, J.D., associate dean of academic affairs at the Palm Beach Gardens campus, served as master of ceremonies.
“The high quality student research presentations today demonstrate that research, whether on cells in a laboratory, animal models of disease, out in the field, or software driven, are effective means for students to apply critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and communication skills—now known as 21st century skills,” noted Dr. Mercer.
Life Sciences of South Florida is dedicated to nurturing and growing life sciences in the region, through the formation of partnerships among educational institutions, economic organizations and industry. In addition to the symposium, other activities include LSSF-hosted webinars, the Annual Lifees Awards celebration to honor life science companies who partner with educational institutions, a newsletter, and an online resource portal where small and large research organizations can gain access to shared scientific instruments and equipment.