Applying for Research Funding

baucom2_1By: Ryan Baucom, EC Scholar and Honors College Senior

As an Honors College student, you are required to complete a senior honors project before graduation.   I have been working in the organic chemistry lab of Dr. Allen for the past year on a peptide synthesis project. Essentially, I have synthesized an amino acid that should have an affinity for certain metal ions such as copper ions. My project aims to insert these novel amino acids into peptide sequences and then examine how the peptide chains interact with one another. One of the leading theories behind Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases is that certain proteins that function normally aggregate and then do not function normally. One theory as to how the peptides aggregate is that they bind to copper ions, which cause the aggregation. If my novel amino acid is successful, one will be able to insert it into any known peptide chain and observe whether the chain then aggregates, as it will be interacting with copper ions. This would help strengthen the argument that copper ions cause the aggregation of prion proteins.

After working in an organic chemistry laboratory for a year, I have realized how expensive laboratory research can be. Some of the compounds needed for my reactions or the solvents used in analysis can cost hundreds of dollars or more. In order to help fund my project, I decided to look for grants and other funding sources. The Honors College has recently created the Scholarly Activity Awards for Students (SAAS). This is a funding source that only honors students may apply for and it funds research, innovation projects, publication fees, or conference registration fees.   I recently applied for research materials through this fund and I was awarded $398 to buy multiple solvents and amino acids for my project. Through this initiative students may receive up to $400 for one of the four funding categories. There are three deadlines throughout the year for this award including: March 15, July 15, and November 15.

Other sources of funding on campus include travel funds through the office of Undergraduate Research and the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity (URCA) Awards. Recently I applied for a travel fund to support my travel to the 249th National ACS Meeting in Denver, CO where I will be presenting my senior honors project. I was awarded up to $350 dollars to be applied to travel, lodging, registration fees, and/or meals. This award requires that I initially spend the money myself and will be reimbursed after proper documentation is provided following the trip. The URCA awards are available twice a year and can provide up to $2500 including a stipend if desired.   These awards fund undergraduate research on campus and require that students present a poster at Research and Creative Achievement Week on ECU’s campus in the spring.

Certain departments on campus, such as the Chemistry Department, also have funds that students may apply for to help offset research costs. I recently applied for a Chemistry Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) award through the Chemistry department and was provided approximately $1200 to help fund my research. Students should check with their individual departments to inquire about research funding. Other grants are available outside of ECU’s campus, but are more competitive as they are usually open nationwide. Students should apply for all funding opportunities that are available to them, as it will increase their chances of receiving an award. Undergraduate research is a wonderful opportunity, and although it can be costly, there are multiple sources of funding here at East Carolina University to provide undergraduates with this wonderful experience.

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Cherishing Time in Certaldo Alto

By: Sarah Judy, Honors College Junior sarah

When I applied to the Italy Intensives program last spring, I was excited to finally have an opportunity to expand my horizons and see the rich history and culture that Italy had to offer. I had never traveled by plane, and the farthest I had ever been from home was Florida, I must admit. This trip was not just about exploring a culture; it was about maturing and discovering what I could do on my own. On September 15th, I finally arrived in the fast-paced city of Rome, and within that first week I was blown away by the ancient historical buildings, which amazingly, were still standing. The Pantheon, the Coliseum, the triumphal arches, the Vatican, and Saint Peter’s Basilica were the first places we visited, and there was much more to come!

We lived and studied in the quiet medieval Tuscan village of Certaldo Alto, about a 45 minute train ride from Siena or Florence. The next three months consisted of weekly art history classes in various Italian cities actually viewing the masterpieces for ourselves as we talked about the artists and how they made the artwork. I took a book arts making class and we even had the opportunity to learn the trade of jewelry making. Every night our entire group of students ate family style at a local Italian restaurant and shared our awe at how beautiful the Tuscan hillside was and our disbelief at being able to experience it. We visited Monterroso in Cinque Terre and swam in the clear cool Mediterranean waters, we hiked Mount Vesuvius and toured Pompeii, we saw hand-carved alabaster in Volterra, toured the Amalfi coast by boat, saw The Birth of Venus in person, toured the Vatican, and so much more.

sarah 2

Even so, perhaps the most memorable portion was sitting down with the local Italian people and just talking to them and socializing like I never had the opportunity to in America. In America, we’re always living in a fast-paced society surrounded by technology. I learned to unplug and relax and cherish the stories of those around me while sitting in the local Piazza (Plaza).  My time there will never be forgotten and it is a time in my life that I believe I’ll cherish forever. When I left Italy, I not only left with a better understanding of the history that the world had to offer, I left touched by the people I had met and become close to in Italy. I left behind a new family, and I know that one day I will go back. This program opened my eyes and has encouraged me to want to travel more and to get in touch with those around me because I learned that a culture is not just its history, but also the stories of its people.

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Happy Holidays from the ECU Honors College!

The Honors College would like to extend warm wishes for a safe and restful holiday season.  Thank you for being a member of our Honors College family, and we hope you enjoy the video!



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The Road to an URCA Award


By: Erika Dietrick, Honors College Junior

Applying for the ECU Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement (URCA) award was similar to every other “first” I have had as a student new to research—confusing, overwhelming, and in the end, extremely rewarding.

I began my research on the endangered plant species Thalictrum cooleyi Ahles, or Cooley’s meadowrue, this fall after a semester of volunteering in the laboratory.  Volunteering consisted of learning laboratory protocol, listening to and participating in group meetings, gaining familiarity with commonly used equipment, and assisting in any hands-on or data-related tasks that needed to be completed.  It was difficult to be at ease at times in the laboratory because I started with almost zero knowledge of plants, but I had been interested in Dr. Claudia Jolls’ lab because she was a patient, helpful, and effective instructor in the Honors Research Colloquium.10689707_919389444757172_9190603531867221927_n

By the end of that semester, I had signed up for Field Botany and Plant Biology for the fall, sketched out a rough plan for my Senior Honors Project, and agreed to work as a Field Assistant for graduate student Renee Fortner.  Suddenly, my life was plants, and I had no idea what I was in for.

Working in the pine savannas of Pender and Onslow counties is what solidified my confidence and interest.  Every week or so, Renee and I would make the 2-hour drive to the site of Cooley’s meadowrue to gather information on sex ratios, pollination limitation, and density.  With each trip, I gained a newfound appreciation for the species and the protection of the pine savanna ecosystem in general.  There were so many memories made, from accidentally shattering a window of the biology truck to touching a venus fly trap for the first time.  The savannas were gorgeous and made working in the blazing heat of a North Carolina summer worth it.


Despite the experience gained up to that point, this semester in the laboratory was still very much a challenge.  I quickly realized how much thought, care, and work went into a quality research project.  There are things professors will tell you in your required lab courses, such as keep a detailed lab notebook or read and plan the experimental procedures ahead of time, that you think aren’t a necessity.  I couldn’t have been more wrong! It’s the attention to detail (along with several other admirable qualities) that make answering such significant scientific questions possible.

In addition to learning through experience what I should have learned the first time, I was also encouraged to apply for an URCA award by Dr. Jolls. (Follow link for more info.)  Through many revisions, I attempted to convey in very few words the essence of my project: I wished to use stereo- and scanning electron microscopy to view seed embryos under different environmental conditions and determine the plant’s potential for a seed bank.  This would accomplish three things: a) help us to determine what causes this mystery species to germinate b) possibly save this endangered species and c) protect the integrity of the pine savanna ecosystem.

Picture3I have to admit that I was not optimistic.  I knew that the attitude towards plants was generally negative, so I thought they may think my project less worthy of funding than say, something in chemistry, medicine, etc.  However, I can’t describe in words the excitement and pride I felt when I received that e-mail—I would be receiving a $1,000 stipend for the spring semester and a $625 materials budget.  I was ecstatic!

I have been hard at work ever since, and I hope to present my research findings thus far at the Association of Southeastern Biologists Conference in April.  I am extremely grateful to the URCA committee, Dr. Jolls, Dr. Fink (who manages the microscopes) and the ECU Honors College for where I am today and where I am headed.  If it weren’t for the Honors College, I never would have even considered conducting research; and now I’m getting paid to do it!

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Pursuing Research at the Brody School of Medicine

NadiyaBy: Nadiya Yerich, EC Scholar and Honors College Freshman

I am a freshman at ECU, and I am a paid undergraduate researcher in the Department of Cell Anatomy and Biology at The Brody School of Medicine. I first learned about this position from an email sent to all of the EC Scholars about research opportunities. In high school, I did not have much exposure to research, so I knew that I definitely wanted the opportunity to work in a research lab in college. In fact, the Brody School of Medicine’s proximity to the ECU campus is one of the reasons I chose to attend ECU — I knew that there were so many professors there conducting fascinating research. When I saw the email about an open position in Dr. Sperry’s lab, I contacted her and asked for an interview. She agreed to the interview and offered me the position later that week, so I have been conducting research in Dr. Sperry’s lab for the past couple of months.

From the short time I have been involved in research thus far, I have already learned that
I immensely enjoy working in the lab. As an undergraduate researcher, Dr. Sperry and
her assistant helped me work around my schedule to find time to come into the lab every
day. I usually work around 10-11 hours per week. The mornings I spend in the lab are
actually my favorite part of the day. I love learning something new each day and
anticipating the work that will lead to an exciting discovery.

Dr. Sperry’s team is mainly studying PPP1R42, a protein she discovered. We are
conducting research on the effects this protein, R42 for short, has on cell functions. R42
is found in lots of different cell types, such as photoreceptor cells and sperm cells, and
plays a role in the regulation of the centrosome. When centrosomes do not function
correctly, it can lead to genetic mutations related to cases of genetic diseases and male
infertility. Dr. Sperry, Rong Wang (Dr. Sperry’s Research Technician), two other
students and I are conducting research in order to discover whether R42 could possibly be
used as a marker for these types of diseases in the long run.

So far, I have mainly been observing the different procedures for the multiple
experiments conducted in our lab. I have also gotten the chance to complete several
experiments on my own here and there, but I will start working on my own experiment
soon. I feel like I have learned so much already, and I am really looking forward to
working alongside Dr. Sperry’s team for the next several years. I have highly enjoyed
learning various research techniques and conducting research on my own as part
of a team.

I truly believe that without the Honors College and the email about the
position, I would never have learned about the opening in Dr. Sperry’s lab. There are
many professors on both ECU’s main campus and the Brody School of Medicine
conducting interesting research, and I encourage any and all undergraduate students to pursue open research positions in order to expand their knowledge base and learn more
about the research process.

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