This year, Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed 10 undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its Student Research Experience. From coastal oceanography to red algae ecology and diadromous genomics, the internship offers mentorship and research training to increase the diversity of students who choose STEM careers and teach them skills such as DNA extraction and sequencing, experimental design, and more. In this article, we will introduce five out of the 10 students who have joined the program.
Jacquelyn Cabusi, a pre-pharmacy and bio-medical track double major, joined the program to gain experience conducting research. Under the mentorship of Atsushi Fujimura, a UOG professor of oceanography, Cabusi will focus on analyzing concentrations of toxic chemicals in Guam’s marine environments during and after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and how they impact coral health. One of the chemicals that will be included in the study is oxybenzone, which can be found in products like sunscreen and certain cosmetics and can negatively affect coral health.
“What I really enjoy about EPSCoR is that it’s allowing me to explore options and paths that I could possibly take,” said Cabusi. “Throughout my time here in EPSCoR, the primary thing I would like to learn is the reason why I applied – which is to learn more about the processes that surround conducting a research study. I’m excited to construct my own experimental design and carry it out, as well.”
This is not the first time that Anela Duenas, a biology major, has participated in a STEM research program. Her time as a 2021 NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance research fellow led her to become interested in the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Research Experience as an opportunity to further enhance her research knowledge and build relationships with her mentor and peers.
Under the mentorship of Tom Schils, a UOG professor of marine biology, she is working on the experimental design of her research project, which will focus on studying crustose calcifying red algae (CCRA). CCRA is a group of marine algae that deposit limestone like stony corals.
After earning an undergraduate degree, Duenas plans to pursue higher education to eventually return to the Marianas and continue answering questions about the region’s marine ecosystems.
“After graduate school, I plan to come back to the Marianas – more specifically Saipan because that’s where I’m from – and I want to conduct some research and hopefully help open the first marine lab there,” said Duenas.
Hunter Sidell got to know his mentor, Daniel Lindstrom, when he volunteered to help the UOG professor of biology collect specimens in 2021. Sidell has always been interested in the field of biology and finds his background as a philosophy major to be helpful when it comes to conducting research as it encourages him to be curious to find answers about the world around him.
Under Lindstrom’s mentorship, Sidell’s research will involve learning more about the island’s native diadromous shrimp species. Diadromous animals are those that transition between freshwater and saltwater environments at different stages of their life cycles. Animals that are diadromous on Guam include certain species of fish, shrimp, and snails.
“Dr. Lindstrom’s amazing. I knew that he would be a great mentor when he bought me pizza,” Sidell said. “I’d always ask a lot of questions and he never got impatient. In fact, it seemed like he was always happy to answer my questions and it created this sort of dialogue where he wanted to answer all of my questions and I wanted to keep on asking them so I could learn more. There’s nothing more I could ask for. I hope I can continue working with him.”
Antoni Badowski, a biology major, joined the SRE program to gain research experience and apply what he’s learned in his classes to conducting research.
Badowski, who has always been fascinated with the natural world, says that being mentored by Daniel Lindstrom has been a great experience. Under the mentorship of Lindstrom, Badowski is excited to learn more about the diadromous animals that are native to Guam.
“I am most excited to meet and work with other people who are passionate about the natural world,” Badowski said. “I’m also excited to explore and find out my areas of interest and career fields to get know more of what I can do in the future and what I can accomplish.”
Zaine Benavente, a biomedical track major, saw the SRE program as a way to gain experience and become more familiar with the lab procedures he would conduct in his classes.
“I just finished my genetics class and I was thinking that I could get more experience here because we had been doing a lot of extractions and procedures in the lab and I wondered if it would be similar,” said Benavente. “And it is quite similar! Now, I’m applying what I’ve learned in the classroom to my internship.”
During the program, Benavente has been performing DNA extractions of coral samples as part of his work with David Combosch, a UOG professor of population genetics. Combosch’s research explores evolutionary questions in island settings using genetic and genomic approaches to inform coral reef conservation, management, and restoration.
“As one of my career goals, I always told myself that I wanted to be a medical lab technician,” said Benavente. “But now that I’m in a STEM program, I get to explore and pick the brain of my advisor about what it’s like to be a researcher.”