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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending July 13, 2012

July 16, 2012

Daria:

  • Words cannot explain how excited I am to be in Johannesburg, South Africa.  As I stepped off the plane I was quite surprised at how “western” the city looked. There are skyscrapers, taxicabs, traffic, etc. It is just like being at home. All of the similarities brought my attention to an article that I was assigned to read before I entered the country. The article, “How not to write about Africa”, listed all the common mistakes that people make when writing about their experiences in Africa. After deep reflection, I can only blame the media for all the inaccurate thoughts of the country, South Africa and the continent Africa. I expected to come to a place that was rural with no paved streets and where the people wore traditional tribal attire. I expected to give a helping hand to this developing country. Wrong! If anything, this country is going to help me grow and develop more than I would have ever expected. I look forward to learning about the history and the traditions of this country. I want to remove the stereotypes that the media has placed on this country and learn the truth. I want to take this experience and share my knowledge with my friends and family back home.  I refuse to take this experience lightly and I refuse to leave this beautiful place thinking in the same mindset as I came.
  • The Mall: My mall experience was quite interesting. I was not aware of the currency exchange rate in South Africa. I went to the ATM and withdrew R250. In my mind, I understood R250 to be US $250.00. I was sure that I could get everything that I needed for this amount. Sadly, I was embarrassed when I found out that R250.00 is only about US $30.00. My Spelman Sister and I laughed at the mistake and we went back to the ATM to withdraw more money.
  • The food: I was not aware that our program provided three meals a day. This is wonderful! I was told that Mary and Johnson, our catering company, are going to be traveling with us the entire month. Based off the meals that I had this week that means I am going to be eating good!! On the other end, I hope that I will be able to partake in traditional South African food.
  • Research:  My research group consists of four researchers and a translator. Our research project will be on Malaria and our focus is on the awareness level of the Maludzawela community in the Limpopo Province.  The Limpopo province is heavily burdened with Malaria so this is an ideal place to conduct research. Our research involves surveying the community about the prevention and treatment of Malaria. We are focusing on the knowledge of the community with hopes to later implement an initiative that will help reduce the number of malaria cases in this area. This community is inhabited by TshiVenda speaking people so I will be able to learn some of a new language and new culture. The weeks to come: with one week down, I can already tell that my time here in this beautiful country is going to fly by. We are off to our next destination.

Jasmine T:

  • We haven’t hit the lectures too hard and the course load is minimum for week one. We did sit through lectures from four different people so far though. But, we are playing tourists. In Johannesburg, the great Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill can be found. The Apartheid Museum is perfectly laid out. It takes you on a journey from the entrance doors, marked ‘Whites or Non-Whites.’ Our tour guide handed everyone a ticket with either identifier and we walked in as our ticket declared us. I was Non-White and I did accordingly. The stories that the period created are mind blowing. They have a huge Nelson Mandela section. However, visiting Constitution Hill gave us an entirely different light into what Mandela had to face while imprisoned. Constitution Hill is the location of the highest court and also the famous prison grounds which were home to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi.

Erica:

  • Now that the rest of the other girls have let to go home it is just the G-STEM students left in Brazil. We did not really notice it until today. Normally we see the other girls every day now we only see each other, which is normal and strange all at the same time. The previous weeks we went to the research site every other week, while now we go every day, which is also different. As of right now culturally there is not a lot of things that we are doing on a day to basis aside from interacting with household activities. As the last days wind down we are trying to pack as much in as we can. Sadly after doing work all day we come home and are exhausted and end up just falling asleep.
  • As previously stated there have been miniscule issues pertaining to the language barrier. The language barrier is becoming more prevalent with working with our research mentor. He knows a good amount of English but at the same time there are many words he does not known. In regards to trying to communicate what needs to get done it becomes difficult to get our questions across to him. Luckily the big issues can always be communicated correctly. We are able to communicate these issues by using our dictionaries and translating applications, also hand gestures are a big assistance.
  • Recently we were riding the bus back home after shopping and we witnessed a case of racism. It is strange for us because coming to this country we were told that we would blend in and there was not as high level of racism as in America. That is not the case. We sat and watched as a woman of a lighter complexion blatantly scooted over to avoid letting a child of a much darker complexion sit next to her. We assumed that she was going to get up for her stop but she continued to sit the whole way. It was appalling to see how she would treat a child that way. It was one of the hardest things to endure watching while I have been here. Personally I have never seen something like this even in America, and to see it here was mind blowing and it made both of us feel horrible. Seeing this act of racism definitely altered my perception of this country. When I first arrived I thought this country had less racial issues than the states.  The main issue I have also noticed is that people here do not realized what they are doing is racist, while in the states everyone knows that racism is.
  • Starting off the research component was an extremely slow process. As each day passed we have been able to pick up momentum and now are making a lot of progress. It is crazy to believe that we only have a couple more days left until the research is over and we are going back home. So far it has been kind of confusing to see how each component was going to come together to create a cohesive research project.  For the first couple of visits we would go out to each individual lagoon and take information from each of the five points. It was quite a tedious process. We then recorded the data and came back to the facility to analyze the information that we had acquired. As the days passed we visited the lagoons less and less and spent more time formulating the charts and graphs with the information of it. Givaldo our research mentor gave us a handout that had the most common aquatic plants we would encounter and it was very helpful in identifying the plants. We are able to easily see the trends in each individual lagoons pertaining to the parameters given. It was baffling to see that a lagoon on the property had a more acidic pH versus the lagoons that were exposed human influences. I was also able to kayak in the same lagoon and follow the other girls as they went to each individual point on lagoon. It was a fun experience getting an up close of the lagoon. It was a lot bigger than I thought it was.
  • My research question started off pertaining to the microorganisms that create a stable environment for each individual lagoon. Since we focused more on the plants I think that I will be adjust my questions to include the bugs and the plants, plus some of the parameters that we tested for. At the beginning I was discourage not knowing what exactly I was supposed to be doing. Now it is nice to know that I have an idea of what I am doing and a direction to go towards creating a good research presentation.

KaNesha:

  • This week was a challenge for me in the lab because the experiments scheduled did not give the expected results. Thus, I had the opportunity to gain experience simply in the process of learning through the trials involved in the troubleshooting stages of lab work. I know that I have been given the chance of a lifetime being able to work alongside the very intelligent minds and passionate hearts of the people around me every day. As I watch the different aspects of this scientific puzzle unfold, I feel extremely privileged to have been given this opportunity.
  •  I was able to expand the geography of my mind a little more this week because I am sure more wrinkles were created on my brain in the time I spent trying to figure out the answers and possible reasons why some of my experiments were not working. However, I believe the highlight of the week must have been the supportive and understanding nature of my mentor. I really appreciate the time she spends making sure I thoroughly understand the very important details involved that determine the potential outcome of any project, etc. I can only aspire to be as understanding, patient, and thorough as my mentor.
  • The energy invested into answering questions that may have never been asked before as a result of trying a new method has made me realize that sometimes the greatest part of a journey is simply found in the process involved in reaching a certain goal. Furthermore, the meticulous yet spectacular thoughts behind some of the most ordinary techniques are really intriguing and thought-provoking. Thus, I began to spend more time this week learning how to critically review other articles and publications in other interdisciplinary areas of science.  In essence, I believe I was able to grow even more along the journey to becoming a great scientist one day because of the maturity that is developed in challenging times and the questions that spring forth through critical thought.
  • My cultural experience this week has taught me patience. Specifically, I am learning how to be more patient and understanding with myself. I am used to always being sure of the next step and things going as planned. However, this week I was forced to learn how to appreciate the moments when it is critical to be still and content. The unique sense of understanding amongst the lab group even through the difficult and trying times is a wonder to me.
  • I believe the lab environment here has set the standard for me when it is time to endure the future trials during graduate school. I have been thoroughly impressed with the content yet non-complacent attitude of the other lab members here. It seems as if though a very solid foundation has been molded in the way things are handled here regarding data analysis, presentation, and bench work execution.
  • The different personalities and viewpoints of each individual lab member are valued and the teamwork ethic of the department is treasured. I would like to walk into a graduate program in the United States with such commendable work ethic. I am growing every day I am here as a result of this privileged opportunity to observe what can one day be my every day lab reality in the future. The fact that more than four different nationalities are represented in just one lab acts as the epitome of unity when only the skill, ethic, and sustainability is paramount to the overall success.

Antonia:

  • Today the G-Stem students went to Unidunas. It was a pretty straight forward day. We learned a lot about the history of Unidunas and Parque das Dunas. Also we talked about everything that we were going to be doing next week. We pretty much would be winding down our project next week. All that is left to research are plants in each different lagoon. Our mentor explained that we would be going to five different points in each lagoon (the same five points that we went to last time to collect the water, physical, and chemical parameters). At each point we will look at the different kinds of plants. These plants will be helpful to our projects because each plant has a different purpose in the lagoon and some are indicators of pollution.
  •  After we left Unidunas we went home and got ready for the night. It was the very last night we would all have dinner together. The young ladies in the group all had to fly back soon. Our coordinators had a farewell dinner set up for us in Pelourinho. The next group of people coming in were from UNCF and they were a group of professors in Brasil for a 10 day conference. It was a farewell dinner for us and a welcome dinner for them. I enjoyed conversing with them. This dinner was both exciting and emotional. On the bright side the study abroad program coordinators of Brazil Cultural signed an official contract with Dr. Togunde, our Dean for Global Education in order to make the Brazil Summer Study Abroad Program an official program in conjunction with Spelman College. However, it was pretty sad to know that we all were not going to see each other every day anymore. All of us became pretty close being in a group for five weeks spending just about every moment together.  Overall it was a wonderful night.

Kendra:

  • This week has been perhaps the most influential week that I have had since I landed in Spain six weeks ago. As I am attempting to figure out exactly what to say, and in what order, I am bogged down with every memory of every second of this past week. But as I don´t think have discussed my research in a while, I figured it would make more sense to start with that first.
  • This week, I wrapped up most of the project that I have been working on this summer, and started on my paper. I still have to do the cytometries of my cell lines next week, but other than that, I am done.  As mentioned in previous entries, I tested the effectiveness of various pharmaceuticals that are being used for the treatment of Metastatic Breast Cancer. My primary focus was on which drug or combination of drugs was most effective, yet least toxic. After those concentrations where identified, my secondary focus, and what I am still working on now is what makes these drugs effective, whether it be where they bind on the receptor tyrosine kinase, or what causes them to inhibit the receptor that controls overexpression. I am still working on an answer, but I am sure that I´ve come close to some sort of answer, but with science there is never just one answer. I don´t expect to make life changing discoveries in 2 months, but I do want to continue search for an answer, which I hope I can have the opportunity to do once I return back to school.
  • I think the best part of my week however was my trip to Germany. After 1 plane, 2 buses, 3 trains, and 17hours I got to say ´´hello´´ once again to one of my best friends from high school.  My friend is currently serving our country as a solider in Bamberg, Germany. When I found out that the location was close, I was excited, so I planned a weekend trip to visit.  I experienced culture shock for the first time when I landed in Germany. I had the misconception that because English was a Germanic language, that most people would at least know some English, I could even communicate in Spanish if necessary. This statement couldn´t be more incorrect. I spent much of my time being lost, and initially frustrated. Most of the people knew no English, and as someone who was travelling through the country, I had countless problems with vital communication, such as which train to go on, where the lavatories where located, and even ordering food at restaurants.
  • Even though at first so many things where going wrong during my travel, I am grateful for this experience. I remember that I cannot expect things to be perfect or even semi-correct the first time. When you carry these expectations, it is very easy to be closed minded, and that is not an action that is progressive for human beings. In fact it holds us all back.
  • My final ´´goodbyes´´ were those that I had to give where to many of my friends that I have here in Salamanca. Because the school year is officially ended, most people are heading back home. Even though I sad to say goodbye, I appreciate the chance to get to know them. It is not easy living in a different country, let alone a country with a different language. My friends here have been so patient with me and I could never repay them for the language lessons, the great dinners, and finding me every time I got lost somewhere in the city. They are all wonderful people and I know that we will keep in touch.
  • This week altogether has caused me to reflect on so many things. Since I have been here, I have had the opportunity to meet great people and even reconnect with old ones. I have noticed the change in the way that I look at many aspects of cultures and how I have become much more tolerant to miscommunication. I think differently, and the way that I process adversity sometimes makes me do a double take. I am not the same person that I was before I came here and I am not sure of my direction at the moment, but I am sure that greatness is in my future.

Jenine:

  • For the past two weeks, I have been dangling just two feet above the ground; and this week, I took a risk and let go of the rope. During my summer in Spain, the rope has represented my plan and my vision. When I first started the summer I thought that perhaps I would have the most difficulty adjusting to the language barriers in the lab as well as the experiments; however I would spend the first week adjusting. I also anticipated that all sixty days of my Madrid life would be filled with nonstop activities. Needless to say I thought that my summer would be pretty close to perfect. As the weeks began to unfold, my perfect vision did not unfold and I began to fall into an entirely different plan, the unexpected. Like the guy in the story I wanted to hold on to my plan of perfection, because that was the only way I could see this journey being a success; however, I could not have been so wrong. In fact, holding on to this rope, or plan of perfection was the one thing that was holding me back. I was so fixated on seeing my life in Madrid through a looking glass with one lense, that I stopped living in the moment and enjoying all the cultural experiences and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that were happening now. So, at the beginning of this week, I let of my rope of safety and decided to take a risk and fall. After falling, I was really able to see Madrid and my experience as the treasure it really is.
  • This week I had the opportunity to attend a church, where I truly learned possibly the most important lesson. I learned that the true heart of Madrid was its people. While many of the native Madridians remain here in the city, there are tens of thousands of people that migrate here from all over the world. This week, on multiple different occasions, I had the opportunity to speak with people that originate five different continents and now call Madrid home. Every person had a different journey  and derived from vastly different backgrounds from Filipino to Ghanan to India; but they all had similar reasons as to why they chose Madrid as their new home. One Texas born, now Madrid native told me that Madrid is “home” to him because of the comfort and family he has created here. He also commented how it was a beautiful city with so much culture, history and hospitality to offer. As I pondered his comment as well as my six weeks of experience, I realized that his outlook on Madrid was just the encouragement I needed to allow me appreciate my journey in totality here in Madrid.
  • In addition to a cultural unveiling, letting go of the rope also allowed me to further excel in the lab with my experiments. I recently had to change the focus of my lab experiments. I was highly concerned that this suggested new focus would not yield the results nor the further experimental explorations that I was originally hoping for. I was reluctant to change focus and even more reluctant to continue my interest in the subject; however, after gaining a new perspective, I realize that this new direction takes me even further into an unexplored subject, yet closer to my career goals and dreams. I have two more weeks to see where this “falling risk” will take me…

Olivia:

  • Since my departure isn’t far away, the supervisor of my lab has requested that I submit both a neatly copied version of my lab book and a formal report of my experiments. Last week I spoke of many small errors and many repetitions, which now have to appear neatly and descriptively in both my formal lab book and lab, report. Next time I involve myself in a research project I plan to have some sort of tablet device to type as I go so that once I reach the end, I won’t have to type everything at once. I would also recommend this as a way to keep up and make sure everything is organized. The issue in my lab is that everyone is old-fashioned and prefers pen and paper as their first draft and then waits to type for hours at the end of the project. I definitely know how to vastly improve my lab book. Although I did a very good job of writing everything down, the order in which they are written is chaotic much like the daily happenings of the lab. The facts, figures, and protocols are all there but there is no way to track them down and find them in my notebook without having to flip through it. I will devise a better system for keeping a lab book for next time because at times the chaos is frustrating.
  • My cultural experience of the week was my visit to the medieval city of Toledo. It is a breathtaking place that is built labyrinth style. For someone who needs GPS to get home in Atlanta, this was interesting to say the least. I also found out that outside of the bigger cities a lot of places don’t take cards.

Jasmine:

  • Parque das Dunas is a public park in which UNIDUNAS is an important component. UNIDUNAS was founded in 1989, in order to preserve the park and environment. Its main purpose was to protect the ecosystem by focusing on the dunes and lagoons. This establishment is one of the largest areas of land that preserves the environment in Bahia, Brazil. The benefits of incorporating UNIDUNAS is to regulate of climate, recharge the water bearing subterranean, fixing vegetation of the dunes, biological diversity, and educate the public. I have seen the education process take place by middle school kids coming into the park to learn about the environment and to take classes. UNIDUNAS is an influential organization which manages the park through a private public partnership. In addition to this information UNIDUNAS observes the various plants and insects that depend on this stable environment to survive.
  •         Aquatic insects were observed in the previous weeks, but now research on aquatic plants will be conducted in the next couple of days. Just like the insects, plants are indicators of the biodiversity of the lagoons. It is expected that I will go to the same points as before in each lagoon to identify the plants. As I was learning about my next research project, I had to change my research question because of some unexpected events. This process has taught me to embrace change, because research is all about repeating experiments and solving the problem. Gathering the information from experiments I have already conducted, I created a new question.  I will be researching the effect of water pollution on the biodiversity of three lagoons comprise of aquatic plants and insects. I will be able to compare and contrast the results from each of the lagoons by utilizing the indicators of aquatic plants and insects. Since I am still in the process of completing my research experiment, the final results will show in my next scientific submission.
  • Being in Brazil for six weeks has changed my life in more ways than I will ever know. I have experienced many culture lessons, learned Portuguese, and interacted with the people. I have matured as a person by being with my Spelman sisters in an unfamiliar country. However the one thing that stuck out to me is the generosity of the people in Brazil. I have experienced many acts of generosity throughout this trip which touched my heart.
  • During my first week with my new Brazilian family I was really sick with a fever. My Brazilian mom checked up on me and took care of me like I was her daughter. This act was filled with love and I truly appreciated her for her kindness. Then on another day, my mom came across her friends and they invited us to sit down at a table. One of my mom’s friends was so happy to meet a new person in the neighborhood that she went to her house, and brought back some food. I was amazed that this woman was so willing to give up some of her food, so I could feel comfortable in his new country. The last act of generosity is just the time that people have taken to get to know me. I am used to people being so busy that they do not have time to get to know me. However in Brazil people are very interested in getting to know you and learning from you. In the United States people seem to think that the big things in life only matter, but they are forgetting that the small things like generosity is a very important aspect in life.
  • I will be sad to leave this place that I have called home for most of the summer. The generosity that I have observed will be express in my life when I go back to the United States. I will never forget Brazil since it will always be in my heart. Nevertheless this is not goodbye because I will be back to visit soon.

Kandyce:

  • I cannot believe this program is approaching the end. Last week was pretty intense as we have all been preparing to culminate our expedition in Brazil which included a lot of assignments for class. We had two papers for culture class, and a presentation and exam in Portuguese class. Most of the class was pretty worried about the assignments, mostly because we have not had many assignments to turn in all trip long. One of the assignments we had was an essay where were told to reflect on the things we have learned while being in Brazil. The instructions for the essay were vague to say the least. With no direction, we stressed to write the papers and were even more nervous about presenting them in class. But to my surprise, the presentations went extremely well. I was impressed by the creativity everybody incorporated and was touched by the stories of growth my classmates shared. I was skeptical at first to read mine. I can be a really private person at times and my paper was written as if it was a journal. To read something non-academically written was a little difficult for me. But I did it, and was satisfied with the outcome. Our culture teacher made a good point when we told her about our anxieties about the presentation. She said that as students, we have been trained for years to write one way. We have been given rubrics, and structure, and guidelines that we do not know how write freely. We complain about too much the lack of freedom in our assignments, but when actually given the freedom, we tense up. Although, I hated writing this particular assignment for my culture class, it taught me a much needed lesson about the importance of being able to master multiple writing styles and accepting the challenge of not relying on guidelines to shape my writing.
  • Along with the relief of completing my presentation, our Portuguese teacher informed us of our grades in the class the day after we had taken out exam and did our presentations. I am proud to say that the entire class received A´s, and I personally received a 100% in the class. This is the ultimate reward to receive at the end of our program. It is apparent to me now, that I have learned way more than I ever expected to. I learned more than I even thought I was, and my grade in the class is the proof. Hard work surely does pay off.
  • On Friday, July 6th, we traveled to Bahia Street for the last time where we had a cooking class. We were taught how to make Moqueka which is a popular Afro-Brazilian seafood dish. It was really special to learn how to make a dish with so much history and tradition behind it and that tastes good too. Truly a privilege. Afterwards, we transitioned to the Steve Biko Institute for our last time. Students from the Savannah State study abroad program joined us. While we had spent five weeks in Brazil and were planning to return home, they had spent five days in Brazil and had just arrived. The Savannah State students were asked to talk about their expectations for their trips and preliminary impressions and observations. We followed up their comments by expressing our thoughts on out experience as a whole. Listening to the new students made me feel like it was my first day in Brazil again. We have really come full circle.

Kymber:

  • Gotten over homesickness. Could be for a lot of reasons. May be because I have things to look forward to for the remaining weekends I’ll be here. A lot of the loneliness set during the weekends once I was not doing anything with anyone. It might have been a phase, but it could also be because I am so rapidly approaching the end of this trip. I think now I’m more preoccupied with my exit.
  • My most pressing concern has become whether or not I will be done with all the research I would like to by the time I leave. With me having such extensive training beforehand, I found that I had little time to actually work on experiments. The experiments that I have done have indeed been quite interesting. What I am essentially trying to find in my experiments is the difference between WT mice and CD38KO mice in level of differentiation from splenocytes to osteoclasts. Osteoclasts are cells that eat away at the bone, inciting many problems including arthritis. Therefore, the mice in which we find a greater occurrence of osteoclast differentiation we will expect to develop a more severe form of arthritis. I found it most interesting that spleen cells could be transformed to cells usually found in bone. In a follow-up experiment, I decided to use bone marrow cells instead of splenocytes since there is a large number of osteoclast precursors in bone marrow. In other words, these cells
    will have a higher baseline rate of differentiation into osteoclasts. They would therefore serve as a good control for my first experiments.

Christina:

  • Being a scientist is many things, all of which require work. There’s no breezing through your career on the coattails of another. Sure, you might still get your name on a paper or two, but everyone in the scientific community knows the skunks and the stars. There’s more politics in science than most people realize, which has its advantages and its disadvantages.
  • In a certain way, the value of a good reputation doing wonders for someone’s career is like a reward based on merit. If you work hard and produce good science then people will come to know about it, job opportunities will open up, you’ll have the chance to affect the lives of thousands of people and you will have the power to inspire and mentor the scientists that follow you. Suddenly, your name is spoken always with respect and everyone references the work you’ve done, your opinions, or even your way of life. The walls between you and your dreams fall and you have more time, space, equipment and funding to do what you really want to do.
  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, having a bad reputation makes you the equivalent of the plague. No one wants to work with you. Your name on a publication is more a point of shame rather than pride, and people’s willingness to trust you to do anything is essentially nonexistent. It doesn’t matter whether people tell you or not, if you’re considered a scientific sham, your career can be a ticking time bomb. The only saving grace for such a one is if they are able to provide some service that would not otherwise be available at that facility, and even then it is only a matter of time before that person is replaced by one more likable.  What surprised me the most, however, is how detrimental it can be to not have a reputation at all.

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