Hartwick College Receives Fifth Dean M. Graham Foundation Grant

June 6, 2017

Hartwick College has received a $5,000 grant from the Dean M. Graham Foundation to help fund student research and purchase relevant equipment for a research projects in life sciences this summer. This is the fifth such award from the Foundation.

The grant will help Hartwick biology faculty mentor a rising sophomore or junior biology or biochemistry major through a full-time, eight-week undergraduate research experience.

Professor of Biology Dr. Stanley Sessions will be the principal investigator on the grant, working with a team including Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Eric Cooper, who will serve as co-investigator.

Each faculty member has his own well-established research program and an excellent track record as a scholar, teacher, and researcher.

Sessions obtained his undergraduate degree in anthropology from the University of Oregon, and his Ph.D. in zoology from the University of California, Berkeley. He has been at Hartwick College since 1989, and teaches mainly Animal Development and Vertebrate Zoology, as well as the off-campus course Natural History of Costa Rica. His research is focused on evolutionary development, regeneration, and cytogenetics of amphibians. Sessions was also a recent Fulbright Scholar working in Slovenia, where he did research on the European blind cave salamander.

Cooper studies Lesch-Nyhan disease, a rare neurological disorder in which affected individuals display a range of impairments including cognitive deficiencies. The disease is caused by defects in a single enzyme. Recent studies have shown that certain enzymes re-localize into “clusters” in response to specific growth conditions. Little is known about the function of these clusters or what controls their dynamics. Cooper and his students will utilize genetic and biochemical approaches in order to understand the function of enzyme clustering and identify molecules that regulate it.

Sessions’ and Cooper’s summer program will help develop strong researchers for the field of biotechnology, specifically regeneration and immunology, which has an urgent need. Sessions will continue his groundbreaking research in understanding how salamanders, and other organisms, are able to regenerate limbs and internal organs, including the heart, brain, and spinal cord. Cooper likewise will push forward on his important research on a difficult human disease.

To date, Sessions and Cooper have received five grants from the Foundation, totaling more than $22,000. Most of the funds from these grants have been used to support student research projects.

Molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, and regenerative medicine represent the future of the life sciences, and those emerging fields need well-educated scientists. Because of this, Hartwick has developed courses which prepare students for careers in molecular biology, biochemistry, bioengineering, environmental engineering, and “green” technologies.

The College’s liberal arts in practice philosophy, which combines a rigorous curriculum with hands-on learning, allows science majors to have incredible opportunities to work side-by-side with faculty who are productive scholars and active researchers. Hartwick’s biology department, in particular, has a fine tradition of undergraduate research, with students and faculty being published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Science.

In 2016, Hartwick received a Dean M. Graham Foundation grant of $5,000 which funded the collaborative research of biochemistry student Sara Thompson ’17 and Visiting Assistant Professor of Biology Dr. Anthony (AJ) Russo. During the course of their research, Thompson and Russo studied the dysfunctional or abnormally produced receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) pathway proteins in individuals with neuro-behavioral disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and more.

Since 2005, Hartwick has received more than 30 grants in science disciplines, virtually all of which incorporated a student research component.

“The Dean Graham Foundation Grant provides us with the opportunity to do one of the key things that makes Hartwick unique: Genuine, student/faculty collaborative scientific research during the summer, in the absence of the ‘distraction’ of regular courses,” said Sessions. “Thanks to this grant, we were able to hire a student to get hands-on experience that will prepare her, better than anything else, for a career in biomedical research. We are most grateful for this important opportunity.”

For additional information on the grant, contact Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations Lisa A. Iannello at 607-431-4061 or at iannellol@hartwick.edu.