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Facilitating an Interdisciplinary Learning Community Amongst

Undergraduate Research Fellows By Emphasizing Scientific Inquiry as the

Unifying Thread

Offered through UNC-Chapel Hills Office for Undergraduate Research
Virginia K. Hench and Patricia J. Pukkila
The HHMI-Future Scientists and
Clinicians (HHMI-FSC) fellowship is 1 of 3
components of the HHMI Science Learning
Communities program at UNC Chapel Hill.
The HHMI-FSC program was designed to
foster an intellectual community that
empowers high-ability students from low-
income backgrounds to engage in
biomedical research for 2 summers. Each
year, 12 new fellows are matched with
mentors in labs spanning a range of
biomedical areas. They work fulltime in labs
on their own research project and meet
weekly as a group to engage in interactive
programming that targets skills critical for
success in science beyond the bench. One
area of emphasis has been the process of
inquiry itself. The goal is for students to
transition from being a pair of hands
executing protocols to active learners
invested in their own projects and able to
speak with authority about why experiments
are performed in particular ways and what
conclusions can be drawn from data
generated. This starts with coaching
students to state the questions that they are
trying to answer and think through whether
an experimental setup is consistent with
what they say they are trying to find out.
Assignments and feedback are designed to
reinforce this principle. One of the most
satisfying aspects of doing science is getting
to follow ones own instinctive curiosities
and develop the methodologies needed to
navigate new terrains. Undergraduates are
usually still trying to define their own
specific curiosities. Pushing students to
describe what they are curious and
passionate about is one feasible strategy that
can help students identify pursuits that fit
their interests and talents. Another
successful strategy has been to require
returning second year fellows to share
science learning experiences via 15-30
minute long talks for their peers. Some took
the opportunity to become more immersed
in their labs focus, while others branched
into questions like what motivates scientists
to work in foreign countries and what has
genomic anthropology told us about human
evolution. Project aims were developed
through conversations between the fellow
and instructor. The one constraint was for
fellows to organize their presentations
around questions. Feedback indicated that
presenters benefited from having to give
presentations and others enjoyed learning
about a broader array of topics. Supported in
part by a grant to UNC-Chapel Hill from the
Howard Hughes Medical Institute under the
Undergraduate Science Education Program.

HHMI-FSC fellows visit an
RTP biotech company
Gene expression during
fruit fly development
Neuron development Simulated folding of
RNA aptamers
Neuroscience of Addictive
Interdisciplinary nature of the program stems from the
wide range of biomedical labs where fellows work
HHMI FSC Fellows in 2012 : Standing, L-R:
Hannah Yoo, Thomas Bass, Sam Neal, Vivian
Doan, Max Wolpert, Paul Osei, Xiao Fu Liu,
Jordan Texier, Amanda Smith, Katie Joa, Chloe
Greguska, Tatyana Zhuravleva, Jessica Parks, and
Martin Bahena. Kneeling L-R: Makani Dollinger,
Gabii Brown, Erin Lewchuk, Daniela Mytsa,
Kinnari Buch, and Dr. Ginnie Hench. Not
pictured: Esita Patel, Kunal Patel, Michael Huynh,
and Daijha Copeland.
Program runs for ten weeks from May to July
Week 1 activities : Community-building orientation activities; science news reading
assignment was designed to expose students to recent advances in the life sciences,
while exposing them an important science communication medium and coaching them
to speak about their scientific interests in the active voice (I chose this article about
___because I__).

Weeks 2 & 3: Workshops on - How to read peer-reviewed scientific paper - focus on
identifying questions that drive published research; How to give a scientific talk - focus
on articulating the questions that shape the experiments being performed, as well as
data presentation and analysis.
Carolina Covenant
Scholars in science
majors strongly
encouraged to apply
Postdoc or
PI Mentors agree to
participate &
nominate someone
from their lab to be a

1. The selection committee
chooses candidates based
on applications (no
interview) and matches
them to labs.
Program Director recruits January/February:
Pizza party/info session
for Covenant Scholars
& Co-Mentors
2. PI & Co-Mentor
interview the candidate and
determine whether the he or
she will be accepted
December: Outreach Returning fellows promote the program at the
Covenant Scholar end of semester banquet by showing a poster that
describes opportunities offered through the program.
Programmatic Off Season
Weeks 9 & 10 Practice and preparation for formal end of summer symposium. First
year fellows give talks and second year fellows give posters.
Summer programming focusses on skills widely applicable in all areas of science, while
relying on strong Co-Mentors to train fellows in bench techniques and guide them to the
scientific literature appropriate for their specific project.
Biochemistry of Sterol
Binding Proteins
S. multiplicata S. bombifrons

Toad mating behavior
Other research project topics have included regulation of DNA replication by origin licensing, organic
chemical synthesis, multiple sclerosis in a mouse model, characterization of novel chromatin regulatory
genes, effects of pollutant particles on inflammatory mediators in vitro, lipase regulation, developing gene
transfer vectors to improve a humanized mouse model of liver pathogenesis, manganese-based nanoparticle
optimization, and more.
Tatyana Zhuravleva
Through out the summer, Co-Mentors contribute to the programming by leading
journal clubs in their area of expertise. Second year fellows are responsible for giving a
presentation on a life science topic of their choosing. These independent projects are
developed through a coaching session with the program director. Here are 2 examples:
Bruffee, KA Collaboration, Conversation, and Reacculturation in Collaborative
Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge (1995).
Fine, E and Handelsman, J, Benefits and Challenges of Diversity from the Women in
Science & Engineering Leadership Institute (WISELI) at University of Wisconsin-
Madison, from Entering Mentoring (2005).
Grobstein, P Revisiting Science in Culture: Science as Story Telling and Story Revising
Journal of Research Practice (2005).
Pukkila, PJ and Milgram, SL, Postdocs Learn to Manage Others, The ASCB Newsletter,
vol 24, no 8, (2001).
Schwartz, MA, The importance of stupidity in scientific research, Journal of Cell Science
121, 1771, (2008).

Weeks 4 & 5 Short project presentations using framework just described with
dialogue about content presented, which helps fellows identify areas where they need to
clarify their own uncertainties.

Weeks 6-8 Workshops on hypothesis development, career opportunities in science,
science funding discussions and field trip to an RTP research facility or biotech company
The Globalized Nature of
Scientific Practice
Max Wolpert
The program receives positive reviews
from participants at all levels: fellows,
Co-Mentors and PIs.
The 2
summer allows more time for
fellows to gain increased confidence and
maturity. As one PI wrote, Same
student, same project, but the student
developed significantly over those 12
months. The mentor did as well.
In 2012, 12/12 Covenant Scholars
successfully completed the 2-summer
long fellowship; 12 joined the 2
in 2012 and 11 will return in 2013.
The racial demographics of the cohorts
reflect the demographics of STEM
majors at UNC (9% African
American/9% Hispanic).
2 fellows are manuscript co-authors & 1
presented her research at the GSA Model
Organisms to Human Biology meeting.