Undergraduate Research Spotlight: Sarah Izabel
Sarah Izabel has been awarded a 2016 Exceptional Research Opportunities Fellowship for summer research. She will be matched with an investigator from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for a 10-week summer research experience. VCU nominates two students each year for this award and though our students were awarded the fellowship in 2014 and 2015, we have never been awarded both of our nominations in the same year.
Sarah is a sophomore psychology major, an Intensive Research and Training Program scholar and an assistant in the laboratory of Jeff Dupree, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, VCU School of Medicine. She started as a criminal justice major, but during her first semester at VCU, she says a psychology class inspired her to change her major to “explore the human mind.” Recently, her focus has turned to neuroscience, believing the field will “allow [her] to study the brain and the mind in deeper ways, comprehending the functionality and expression of brain pathways and how neurons work to make us who we are.”
As an undergraduate VCU Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) scholar, she has worked with Dupree and his team on studying multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Izabel, whose grandmother suffers from MS, has a personal connection to her work in the Dupree lab.
“We have been focusing on the neuron, more specifically the axon initial segment, which our lab has found to get shorter and even disappear as the disease progresses. To reach our goals we use an animal model of inflammatory condition and expression of demyelination named EAE.”
“[I] have…developed a great relationship with my mentor and we are working on developing methods for the analysis of human tissue with MS to possibly replicate results presented in the EAE model. I am excited to [expand] my knowledge about the human brain and its functions.”
Graduate Research Spotlight: Melissa Dvorsky
Melissa Dvorsky, a clinical psychology doctoral student, and her mentor, Joshua Langberg, Ph.D.,will receive a $29,400 grant from Virginia Youth Tobacco Projects to fund her dissertation work. The title of the project is “Factors That Protect Against Tobacco Use During the Transition to College for Adolescents With and Without ADHD.” Rosalie Corona, Ph.D., will serve as co-investigator.
Melissa will be collecting data from 75 high school seniors with ADHD and 75 without ADHD and their families with the intent of examining individual-level, family-level and broad social environmental risk and protective factors for their transition to emerging adulthood and specifically to the college setting. One of the more explicit goals of the study is to identify specific promotive and protective mechanisms associated with tobacco use including alternative tobacco products such as cigarettes during this critical developmental transition, and to translate the findings into improved prevention services and policies. Taken together, the findings generated from this study will lead to best-practice recommendations for how prevention programs can be implemented during this transition.
Developmental psychopathology in children, adolescents and emerging adults with ADHD and in particular, protective factors associated with successful outcomes for this population, are Melissa’s primary research interests; however, she is also interested in school mental health interventions for youth with ADHD and related behavioral difficulties. She enjoys teaching developmental psychology and will be teaching Psychology of Adolescence (PSYC 302) for the second time this summer.
Melissa is from Columbus, Ohio and received her B.A. in psychology from Ohio University in 2010. She worked for two years thereafter as a full-time research coordinator at the University South Carolina before she began her doctoral studies in our clinical program. As for career goals, Melissa hopes to continue building a research program in a university/academic setting.
We think she’s off to a good start!