Students present summer research projects at STAR fellowship program closing ceremony

STAR fellow Mark Bausch gives his presentation during the closing event.

The UNMC Department of Anesthesiology held a closing ceremony Aug. 11 for participants of the third annual Summer Training in Anesthesia Research (STAR) Fellowship. The program is designed for high school (HSTAR), undergraduate (USTAR) and medical (MSTAR) students with an interest in an academic career in research. 

For 10 weeks, participants conducted graduate-level research with a mentor, broadened scientific knowledge and awareness in basic, preclinical and clinical research, gained hands-on experience in laboratories and participated in weekly seminars to hone their presentation skills.

The STAR fellowship program began in 2021 and has provided fellowships for 24 students. Program director Sowmya Yelemanchili, PhD, said the program has been successful, and each year has been different.

“As each year progresses, we get students who are really interested in science and who come with a very different perspective,” Dr. Yelamanchili said. “They’re getting very close to basic bench research in schools, and these students are showing up with good knowledge and inquisitive minds.”

Former STAR fellow Daniel Meyer shared his experience with the program, saying it taught him not only critical thinking skills but also to work effectively as part of a team.

“I was a STAR student during the inaugural year of the program, and I can’t overstate the importance of that experience in my development as a student researcher and as a scientist,” Meyer said. “Of course, it taught me an incredible number of skills using the lab, but it taught me so much more than that.”

Dr. Yelamanchili said there are approximately 30 applicants each year, and competition is rigorous. Her goals are to continue to grow the program by adding more faculty and increasing available positions, in addition to increasing diversity. She said she hopes to recruit more Native Americans and will be reaching out to the existing Native-focused enrichment programs offered at UNMC.

“One of the difficult challenges I faced when building this program was that the department of anesthesiology has a small population of primary investigators and a small basic science group,” Dr. Yelemanchili said. “I’m grateful to the faculty who have taken on these students. Without them, this wouldn’t be possible. I could not be prouder of what we have accomplished.”

Dr. Yelamanchili also thanked department chair Steven Lisco, PhD, for his unwavering support of the program, saying that he understands the need to expose medical students to basic research.

“Physicians are the link between patients and science, and we need more doctors who also can think like scientists,” Dr. Yelamanchili said. “Meaning doctors who will do some research and come back to a patient with treatment options, not just offer treatment by the book or simply write a prescription.”

High school student Ria Vootla said she learned valuable skills performing her first dissection, training on RNA isolations and using western blots.

“Thank you, Dr. (Gurudutt) Pendyala, for all of your guidance and for allowing me to work in your lab this summer,” Vootla said. “Thank you for this wonderful opportunity, Dr. Yelamanchili. And finally, thank you so much Vicki (Schaal) for being a wonderful mentor.”

At the closing ceremony, fellows presented a poster about their research and fielded questions from the attendees.

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