College of Public Health faculty mentor students during Summer Undergraduate Research Program

Three undergrad students were mentored by College of Public Health staff during the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Program. Ethan Sajko (left), Mohammad Salimi (middle) and Gabrielle Estep (right)

Two College of Public Health (COPH) faculty members mentored students during the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Joseph Fauver, PhD and Catherine Pratt, MS. mentored students taking part in the SURP. The program gives undergraduate students the opportunity to join research teams and see first-hand the broad spectrum of research activities happening at UNMC.

Gabby Estep shared her research at the SURP Poster Session at the Truhlsen Event Center on August 10, 2022

Pratt mentored Gabrielle (Gabby) Estep, a Northwest Missouri State University student majoring in science with an emphasis in biochemistry, and Mohammad Salimi, a University of Nebraska at Omaha student majoring in molecular and biomedical biology with a minor in medical humanity and chemistry.

Gabby’s research focused on gathering and testing samples from wastewater treatment plants in Nebraska to see if various viruses were present.

“I really enjoy environmental chemistry, so the wastewater project really sparked my interest. I think it’s interesting to combine the chemistry of things also with biological things as well,” said Gabby.

Mohammad Salimi shared his research at the SURP Poster Session at the Truhlsen Event Center on August 10, 2022

Mohammad spent his summer testing four different nucleic acid extraction kits and how they worked in different settings.

“I had a tube containing a mix of viruses and I was extracting the viruses. Then I would run a PCR to see which would be the most effective and compare how each one works in different environments and how each one has different conditions and rules,” said Mohammad.

Pratt said both Gabby and Mohammad did a great job this summer.

“I loved having them in the lab, they immediately settled into the team. It was great having some new personalities with so many questions,” she said.

“I really enjoy seeing the students grow. Seeing them go from having minimal experience in the lab at the start to managing their own day-to-day work at the end is very satisfying.”

However, one project didn’t get off to a smooth start, but Dr. Pratt said it was a great learning experience. 

“One project had a lot of failures to begin with (because of the methods, not the student!). In a way, I’m glad that happened, as one of the most important things to learn in the lab is to fail – because it will happen a lot! The student persevered, the project succeeded, and we gained some super interesting data.”

Ethan Sajko shared his research at the SURP Poster Session at the Truhlsen Event Center on August 10, 2022

Fauver mentored Ethan Sajko, a University of Nebraska at Lincoln student majoring in sociology with minors in biology, mathematics and psychology.

Ethan’s research focused on sequencing genetic information of the bourbon virus, which is found in ticks.

“I also created a pipeline for using that genetic information to create an evolutionary tree to track how bourbon virus is changing in ticks,” said Ethan.

Ethan said his research is similar to how variants and different strains are tracked with COVID-19.

“I was excited for the topic because it allowed me to explore a technique called next generation sequencing and genomic epidemiology. It’s kind of the new ‘cutting edge’ thing. COVID really popularized it. I think it’s going to be pretty pivotal for public health and epidemiology in the future.”

To learn more about the SURP, click here.

If you’re considering participating in a SURP in the future, Pratt says do it!

“It’s a great opportunity to get some research experience. You get an income for the summer and find out what it’s really like to work in a research team. You might be sure you want to work in research or not sure at all – but getting that experience can help clarify whether it’s the career for you (or not!).”