Classen SAS grads complete OMRF research program

For two recent Classen School of Advanced Studies grads, this summer has been less about rest and more about research at OMRF.

Kimberlea Harlow and Maria Thomas have spent the past eight weeks as Fleming Scholars working on research projects in OMRF laboratories.

Harlow, who will enter Oklahoma City University as a biology and biochemistry major this fall, has worked with OMRF scientist Susannah Rankin, Ph.D., studying a protein that is a key element in the cell cycle.

“I came into this program with very little prior knowledge, and through the guidance and patience of my mentor and other people in my lab, I have made huge progress,” she said. “I have never learned so much in such a short time.”

Thomas is a sophomore biology major at the University of Oklahoma. Her project with Mike Kinter, Ph.D., involves the study of high-fat diets and their relationship to developing type 2 diabetes.

“The best part of the summer has been exploring many different laboratory techniques and just talking to my mentor and everyone else in the lab,” Thomas said. I had always thought about research as a serious kind of profession. But at the lab, everyone was getting together and joking and laughing. It was surprising, but it definitely added a lot of fun to my summer, along with the learning.”

In addition to working in the lab, Fleming Scholars attend lectures by OMRF scientists to learn about various research projects and science-related career options. They attend social events and spend time together as a group outside the lab. At the end of the summer, scholars make formal presentations outlining their individual research results to OMRF’s scientists.

OMRF’s Fleming Scholar Program has served as a stepping stone for hundreds of Oklahoma students seeking careers in the sciences. Since 1956, more than 500 gifted science students have received a close-up, hands-on research experience as scholars. Scores of Fleming Scholars have gone on to establish medical and research careers, including two OMRF researchers, Rodger McEver, M.D., and Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., who got their start in the program.

“These students learn a lot here and are exposed to new concepts, but we learn from them, too,” said Carlisa Curry, Fleming Scholar Program director. “They bring enthusiasm and fresh perspectives into OMRF’s labs. It’s clear through what we see in these young people that the future for research is bright.”

For Harlow, this summer has been a eye-opener. “The best part of this summer has been the opportunity to work alongside people who have a great amount of experience in this field. Not only have they shared their knowledge and experience with me, they have given me insight into what it is really like to be a scientist. It has truly impacted my life in ways I never knew it could.”
Thomas agrees. “My experience with the Fleming Scholar Program has helped me appreciate the effort, inquiry and determination that go into medical research. In fact, it has further deepened my interest in research and has made me more determined to seek out more such opportunities during the coming years.”