Baylor B-TRUE Summer Fellows Program Expands Innovative Research

October 2, 2019

About B-TRUE

The Baylor Transdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Experience (B-TRUE) Summer Fellows Program sponsors undergraduate fellows to conduct summer research in one of six areas of study — biology, physics, chemistry and biochemistry, environmental science, geosciences and psychology and neuroscience — to encourage students to solve complex problems through cross-disciplinary research. The intensive 10-week program, which began in 2017, prepares undergraduate students for rigorous research experience across the life and physical sciences and top-quality graduate programs.

“When B-TRUE was created, we wanted the students to immerse themselves in research and help them see all the possibilities out there. Undergraduate research is an excellent way for our students to discover their potential,” said Dr. Rizalia Klausmeyer, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research and B-TRUE program coordinator. “Some of our alumni have decided to go to graduate school after Baylor and we have some that are planning to go to medical school with the desire to keep doing research. All we do, we do for our students.”

Undergraduate Research and Illuminate

A transformational undergraduate experience as well as research and scholarship are two of the four pillars of Illuminate, Baylor’s academic strategic plan. The B-TRUE program advances the goals of Illuminate by equipping undergraduates with opportunities that increase the value of their experiences and grows research in several fields. Summer programs like B-TRUE build up skills and qualities in students which prepare them for worldwide leadership.

Baylor students participating in the program for the summer of 2019, including Emma Fraley and Roger Neuberger, get a representative sense of what graduate school and a career in academic research would be like. From the beginning, the program has made an effort to draw a diverse cohort. This summer, two students from the University of Puerto Rico joined the program. Dr. Klausmeyer expressed efforts to draw students from historically minority-serving institutions to increase program diversity.

B-TRUE immerses students in a rigorous but encouraging setting that boosts skills like scientific literature comprehension and interpretation, transdisciplinary approaches and familiarity with a wide variety of research. The program ends with student research presentations open to the public. The culmination of a poster day gives students the opportunity to experience and navigate discussing their research efforts with others.

B-TRUE Student Profiles

Year: Junior
Major: Science Research Fellow concentrating in biology

Which research faculty do you get to work with?
Dr. Kelli Barr, professor of biology

What research project are you working on this summer?
We study the arboviral pathogenesis of neural stem cells, meaning we study how viruses infect brain cells.

Why do you think this research matters?
Arboviruses are becoming increasingly common, including Zika, West Nile and Chikungunya, which I study. We’ve seen how Zika affected thousands of mothers and their babies in South America, which really shows just how important this research is to people around the world. Understanding how these viruses affect the brain could one day help us find a cure.

What made you want to get involved in B-TRUE?
Summer is a great time to do undergraduate research because instead of balancing research with schoolwork, volunteering and working, I can dedicate a full 40 hours per week to the lab. This helps me gain a more realistic understanding of what academic research looks like as a career and if this is the career path for me.

How has this research opportunity contributed to your undergraduate experience?
Because I want to do scientific research as a career, beginning to conduct research as an undergraduate is the perfect way for me to jumpstart that. Research is a very different sort of problem-solving than class work, and I enjoy the opportunity to learn about biology in a unique and highly interactive way.

How have you grown since the beginning of the summer through this program?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes! Science is a lot of trying something, seeing if it works and, if it doesn’t, going back and trying again. Knowing how to think critically about the research process allows me to take a step back and find the problem points.

Year: Sophomore
Major: Science Research Fellow concentrating in biochemistry

Which research faculty do you get to work with?
Dr. Daniel Romo, professor of chemistry and biochemistry

What research project are you working on this summer?
I am working towards the de novo synthesis of ineleganolide, a natural product isolated from a Taiwanese soft coral that has shown to be cytotoxic towards certain cancer cell lines.

Why do you think this research matters?
The total syntheses of natural products pose varied and unique challenges that make them an excellent tool for laboratory education, with successes leading to potential advancements in both chemistry and biology. Each compound synthesized expands our understanding of the synthetic methods we use to reach them, while the compounds themselves can provide useful probes for cell biology. By assaying compounds at various points in the synthesis, we can analyze how small variations in their structure affect bioactivity; in the case of ineleganolide, this could lead to the discovery of simplified derivatives that are more selectively cytotoxic to cancer cells.

What made you want to get involved in B-TRUE?
I was originally planning to start in the Romo Group during the fall semester, but B-TRUE made it possible to begin sooner. This early start combined with the prospect of meeting other Baylor students working in labs put B-TRUE well ahead of other, similar programs, and it was an opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.

How has this research opportunity contributed to your undergraduate experience?
Almost everything I’ve done this summer has been completely new to me. I’ve worked in a synthetic chemistry lab, growing familiar with the environment and procedures in a way very few undergraduates get to experience. I’ve gotten to work on a project that I’m passionate about, and I’ve improved my skills as both a chemist and a research scientist. B-TRUE not only made it financially possible for me to be here, but also it introduced me to a group of diverse yet likeminded peers that I would not otherwise have met. This summer, I’ve made lasting friendships and gained invaluable experience, both of which will aid me through undergrad and beyond.

How have you grown since the beginning of the summer through this program?
Before the summer began, I had never really felt like an adult. My responsibilities have grown, and I’ve grown with them — it’s been a nice practice run before true adulthood hits. This summer has been pretty grueling at times, and I’ve had to work harder than ever before, but it’s been an incredible learning experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

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