Central College News

Two Central Students Selected for National Science Foundation Summer Research

Featured: Two Central Students Selected for National Science Foundation Summer Research

May 31, 2023

Two Central College students have been granted highly competitive Research Experiences for Undergraduates through the National Science Foundation.

Marissa Jonas, a Class of 2024 biology major from Blair, Nebraska, and Lauren Litterer, a Class of 2025 environmental studies major from Lake View, Iowa, received Research Experience for Undergraduates awards.

Jonas will conduct research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, her host institution in Creve Coeur, Missouri. She will be joined by 10 other undergraduate students who will each be assigned a specific research project for the summer. Students will have the opportunity to work alongside faculty and other researchers for guidance and assistance in the research programs of the institution.

“I am really looking forward to working at the Danforth Center this summer,” Jonas says. “I would like to get more hands-on experience in the lab. In my Central biochemistry labs, we do three hours per week. This summer, I’ll have 40 hours a week really diving in and getting into the nitty gritty of problem-solving in the lab. I’ll learn different lab techniques and more about the biochemistry of plants.”

Jonas’ mentors at Central include Russ Benedict, professor of biology, Paul Weihe, associate professor of biology, and Jen Jensen, laboratory materials manager of the science center and environmental compliance officer. Jonas credits Benedict for introducing her to outdoor biology and field research, Weihe for challenging her to improve her scientific writing skills and Jensen for pushing her outside her comfort zone by doing chemistry research. Ellen Du Pre, professor of biology, is Jonas’ academic advisor.

Litterer will conduct research in the molecular biosciences program at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas. Her focus on genetics and molecular biology will research “The Stressed Life of Cells” using fruit flies. Litterer will be mentored by Jennifer Gleason, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas.

Anya Butt, professor of biology and Litterer’s academic advisor, encouraged her to apply for the grant.

“After her statistics class, Lauren was looking for ways to approach ‘big data’ in science and the best way to get a lot of hands-on experience is via an REU, which often involves larger research projects. I am excited about the doors this experience will open for Lauren,” Butt explains.

“I was surprised because I was not expecting to receive an REU my sophomore year because they are competitive,” Litterer says. “I’m really looking forward to working in a bigger laboratory and learning techniques and machinery. A big component in the 10-week program is to bring back information to campus and apply it to other studies. I’m working on new research with Lee Macomber, associate professor of biology. I definitely look forward to transferring skills gained during the summer.”

The Central students began their 10-week REU work on May 22. Each receives a stipend, housing, travel reimbursement and academic credit that is transferrable to Central.

The National Science Foundation is the largest funder of scientific research in the United States. The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program supports active research participation by undergraduate students.