Norman grad completes OMRF research program

Norman High School graduate Michael Ripperger could have spent his summer reading, traveling or just enjoying a break from classes. But when he was selected as a Fleming Scholar and offered the opportunity to do hands-on biomedical research for eight weeks, he jumped at the chance.

Since June 2, Ripperger has worked at OMRF in Oklahoma City with Jonathan Wren, Ph.D., creating a series of text-mining algorithms that extract data from microarray metadata to help classify tissue samples.

Ripperger, who will enter Vanderbilt University as a freshman engineering major in the fall, is among 11 Oklahoma students selected for the prestigious program.

“This summer I have been most surprised by the seemingly infinite amount of things there is to learn,” Ripperger said. “I hope to gain a new mindset from this experience that will push me to get out of my comfort zone when solving problems.”

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 Ripperger, this summer has opened new doors. “This program has uprooted me from my current direction and turned me completely around. I have gained more life perspectives in these four weeks than I did all of my senior year.”