Biology Research Leads to Prestigious Internships

“The students get exposed to state-of-the-art research methods, equipment and facilities, as well as interact with a lot of skilled and enthusiastic people.”

— Dr. Glen Wurst

Jennifer Alabran

Students who collaborate with biology professor Glen Wurst gain more than valuable laboratory experience on campus—they find a springboard to opportunities in prestigious research settings.

Allegheny graduate Dr. John Letterio ’82—a former student of Wurst’s and until recently a principal investigator in the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health—informed Wurst that the NIH had an undergraduate research program. Letterio encouraged Wurst to recommend Allegheny students.

Two students who participated in Wurst’s research and courses—Jennifer Alabran and Brad Burkholder—have secured positions in this program at the National Cancer Institute. “My experience at NIH has been priceless,” says Alabran. “It was such a unique environment to work in and the people around me were some of the most amazing scientists in the world.” So impressive were Alabran and Burkholder that they both received invitations to return to the NIH for full-time research positions following graduation.

Student Melanie Gasper also conducted research with Wurst, and she became so interested in biomedical research as a result that she applied for a summer research position in another NIH laboratory. Gasper excelled while working in the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes. She studied the growth and regulation of pigment cells, which are known to play roles in deafness, skin cancer, and other disorders.

Gasper, too, was subsequently invited to take a full-time research position with the NIH upon graduation. “I think Dr. Wurst can attest to the fact that I came back with very ambitious goals for the year after my summer at the NIH,” she says. “I got to see very advanced procedures and I made some great connections.”

Wurst—whose resesarch focuses on how specific genes affect developmental processes by observing what goes wrong when these genes are mutated—says that their experience at the NIH made each of these students much more sophisticated about biomedical research. “I think that we should do whatever we can to facilitate student research in major research labs,” he says. “The students get exposed to state-of-the-art research methods, equipment and facilities, as well as interact with a lot of skilled and enthusiastic people.”