Agnieshka Agasing had never heard of Kevin Durant, Toby Keith or chicken-fried steak a few short months ago.
But thanks to an exchange program at OMRF, Agasing and three other Polish students have learned plenty about Oklahoma icons and our local fare—not to mention research on human disease.
OMRF was recently named as a host institution in the United States for Poland’s highly competitive Visiting Research Graduate Traineeship Program. The program offers Poland’s best and brightest master’s degree candidates the opportunity to come to the U.S. for a year of hands-on research training.
“It’s been much different here in Oklahoma,” said Agasing. “Food portions are huge compared to what we have back home, and in Poland, we’re used to walking everywhere we go. But overall, it’s been incredibly positive for us.”
In the lab, the students have studied high-level medical research projects ranging from the biological effects of aging to the development of blood vessels. Outside OMRF, Agasing said they have experimented with country-and-western line dancing, watching Thunder basketball games and eating local favorites like chicken and waffles.
“I’ve learned a lot in my short time here, including how to two-step,” she said. “I suppose that makes me at least two steps closer to being an Okie than I used to be.”
Four American institutions participate as program hosts: University of Virginia, University of Chicago, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and OMRF.
“This program has exceeded all of my expectations,” said Agasing. “Bob Axtell, my mentor at OMRF, has combined fun and research together in a way I’ve never seen. He challenges us and makes it interesting, all with a smile on his face. He’s the reason I want to come back.”
“It’s been a great addition to OMRF because it brings young, energetic students to our labs,” said Umesh Deshmukh, Ph.D., who coordinates the program at OMRF. “We’ve been happy with our trainees and plan to continue to look in that direction for top-level scientific talent.”
Program participation is extremely selective, with fewer than two dozen students chosen following a nationwide application and selection process in Poland.
“I met with representatives from all four institutions, and OMRF suited me best,” said Agasing. “I absolutely love it here. OMRF has phenomenal facilities, and I’m impressed with how quickly the science moves here. It’s a fast-paced, scientist-friendly environment filled with brilliant, hard-working people.”
Each trainee is assigned a scientist mentor at OMRF. Trainee Joanna Podsiadlowska has worked alongside OMRF researcher Courtney Griffin, Ph.D., studying lymphatic vessel development.
“It has been a pleasure watching Joanna learn new techniques and grow as a scientist,” said Griffin. “She brought a terrific work ethic and can-do attitude to our lab. Based on Joanna’s outstanding performance and significant contributions to our lab, I am eager to continue participating in this program in the future.”
The two other trainees include Kasia Mikolajewicz and Anna Podsiadlowska.
Following their stint at OMRF, all of the trainees return to Poland to complete their master’s degrees. Then, said Deshmukh, some have applied to the University of Oklahoma for Ph.D. programs. “And that is one of our aims: to bring international talent to Oklahoma, expose them to top-notch science, and get them excited about continuing their research here.”
“We hope this program will encourage other well-trained, talented students from all over the world to consider coming to Oklahoma,” said Deshmukh. “We are excited to see it continue to grow and flourish.”