Two Upstate students selected for public health symposium

SUNY Upstate Ambrose Scholars

Upstate Master of Public Health student Kyle Plante and Upstate medical student Simone Arvisais-Anhalt, with former Assistant Surgeon General Woodie Kessel, MD, MPH at the Paul Ambrose Scholars symposium in Washington, DC.

For the second straight year, two Upstate students have been selected for the prestigious Paul Ambrose Scholars Program.

Medical student Simone Arvisais-Anhalt and Master of Public Health student Kyle Plante were among 40 student-scholars from around the country chosen to attend a Student Leadership Symposium in Washington, DC, in June.

Last year, Upstate medical students Elizabeth Zane and Andrew Beltran were selected for the symposium.

Each year the Ambrose program brings together students from a variety of health care fields working on public health initiatives supporting the goals promoted by Healthy People 2020.

The three-day symposium was “an incredible opportunity for us to not only learn from our nation’s public health leaders, but also provided a great opportunity to collaborate and network with other like-minded students from across the country,” Kyle said.

The students discussed health care leadership, evidence-based public health decision-making, health policy advocacy and health care reform, as well as various other topics relating to project planning. Speakers were from the Association for Disease Prevention Teaching and Research, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion and other community-based agencies.

“What I found most energizing about this program was the focus on the meaningful work that can be accomplished at the local level,” Simone said. “Instead of glorifying the power of federal policy on health care, there was an emphasis on community engagement and the positive effects of local policy change.”

Each Ambrose scholar has a year to develop and implement a community-based public health project that addresses one of the Healthy People 2020 Leading Health Indicators.

Simone’s project tackles underutilization and lack of awareness among local health care providers about free clinics. She is collaborating with other students on a two-part program to establish who is visiting the clinics and what barriers they face accessing care.

“We will work on a provider awareness campaign and intervention to distribute free clinic information to patients in need through discharge plans via Upstate’s electronic medical records,” she said.

Kyle’s project is a patient-centered “decision aid” to promote shared decision-making between patients and providers about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing.

“The decision aid will describe the risks and benefits associated PSA testing, as well as the medical, social and emotional considerations needed to make an informed decision,” said Kyle, who is implementing the project with support from Upstate’s Department of Family Medicine.

Simone, a member of the College of Medicine Class of 2017, hasn’t yet decided on a specialty to pursue; Kyle, who already has a master’s degree in anatomy from Upstate, plans to follow up his MPH by enrolling in Upstate’s College of Medicine.

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SURF-ing popular at Upstate again this summer

SUNY Upstate

The 2015 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) students at Upstate. Photo by William Mueller.

A sure sign of summer at Upstate Medical University is the presence of visiting undergraduates working in labs, attending seminars and discussing their research projects.

Fifteen college students from five states are spending 10 weeks at Upstate through the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program.

The SURF program exposes college juniors to biomedical research and gives them the opportunity to formulate a proposal, carry out research under a faculty mentor, write a research paper and possibly have their work published. The program is competitive, with about 200 students applying each year.

Each fellow receives a $3,000 stipend and housing. This summer’s program started June 1 and continues through Aug. 7.

“The Upstate SURF program provides students with hands-on experience in cutting-edge biomedical research,” said Michael Cosgrove, PhD, associate professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and director of the SURF program.

“The program gives undergraduates an opportunity to learn first-hand what being a graduate student is like and what it is like to be a graduate student at Upstate. It has also been successful in helping to recruit top-notch students to Upstate’s graduate programs,” Dr. Cosgrove added.

Isaac Vingan, a neuroscience major at Binghamton University, is studying the function of formin proteins in the lab of David Pruyne, PhD, assistant professor of Cell & Developmental Biology and of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.

The SURF program “is exactly what I was looking for,” Isaac said.

“The faculty and students in the program are incredible. Everyone is so open and social and willing to help each other,” he said. “I felt the cohesive nature of the group from the first week and it’s only been stronger since then.”

Isaac said he loves the work he’s doing at Upstate, even though it’s not related to neuroscience.

“I enjoy being immersed in a lab and finding things out for myself,” he said. “Even though my project has been hitting a few roadblocks, I am not the least bit discouraged to keep trying, on both my project and my aspirations to be a career scientist.”

Isaac plans to pursue an MD and a PhD degree. “The experience and connections I am getting from the SURF program will bring me one giant leap towards my goals,” he said.

Elizabeth Swallow, a student at King University in Bristol, Tenn., is conducting retina research in the Department of Ophthalmology in the lab of William Brunken, PhD.

“We are all passionate about science and I have definitely built friendships that I will never forget,” Elizabeth said. “Through my summer research, I feel that I have had a taste of graduate school. I have had the opportunity to interact with current graduate students, attend committee meetings, and listen to a range of research presentations in addition to completing my own research project.”

Elizabeth said the SURF program has convinced her to continue working in research.

“I am very grateful for being given the opportunity to be part of the SURF program and I will definitely be recommending it to other students since I have had such a good experience,” she said.

The 2015 SURFers: Christopher Bartlett, SUNY Oswego; Juan Bastidas, Stony Brook University; Nicole Coloney, University at Buffalo;  Sierra Darling, SUNY Oneonta; Tim DeMarsh, SUNY Cobleskill;

Bryan Ferguson, Hamilton College; Brooke Hamling, Syracuse University; Briana Natale, Le Moyne College; Gianno Pannafino, Le Moyne College; Maria Presti, Bard College at Simon’s Rock;

Marisa Ross, Duquesne University; Morgan Ross, Nazareth College; Elizabeth Swallow, King University; Isabel Utschig, Marquette University; Isaac Vingan, Binghamton University.

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Upstate student sees the ‘big picture’ of lung disease research

SUNY Upstate

Upstate graduate student Jason Gokey, far right, with recent graduates Chris Lucchesi and Chandrav De, and their catch from the Salmon River in Pulaski.

As an undergraduate at SUNY Potsdam, Jason Gokey spent a couple of summers as a field biologist getting paid to do what he loves.

“I could fish every day and get paid for it, but I wanted something different,” he said. While pursuing two bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry, Jason read papers about cystic fibrosis and lung disease.

“Having lung disease in my family makes it more interesting,” he said.

An aunt died from complications from cystic fibrosis at age 38. Jason was born prematurely, at 24 weeks. His lungs were underdeveloped and lacked surfactant, a substance that helps the lungs fill with air and keeps sacs from deflating. He required intervention to stay alive.

That personal experience has played a role in Jason’s chosen career path.

In September, he starts his post-doctoral work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, studying neo-natal pulmonology and the genes responsible for lung disease in children.

At Upstate, Jason is in the lab of Jeffrey Amack, PhD, associate professor of Cell & Developmental Biology. His research focuses on vacuolar ATPase and an accessory protein, characterizing genes responsible for heart defects in zebrafish. (The genes required to form the heart in zebrafish are similar to the genes required to form the human heart.)

SUNY Upstate

Jason Gokey, Upstate graduate student, will begin his post-doctoral position in September at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

“We’re working on a single gene and how it acts in the embryo,” Jason said. “The whole point is that it may have an effect on humans. You always have to loop it back to the big picture. You have to include that reminder (in papers) and remember why it’s important.”

Working with Dr. Amack has been a great experience, Jason said. “If you have an idea, he’ll let you do it. He’s still young and remembers what it’s like to be a grad student. Occasionally, to celebrate a success in the lab, he’ll host a picnic.

“He knows what he’s doing in the lab,” Jason added. “You can pop into his office anytime and ask questions. That’s true throughout Upstate, and my entire committee, all very open door.”

In Cincinnati, Jason will join the lab of Jeffrey Whitsett, MD, professor of pediatrics and executive director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Dr. Whitsett has a lot of projects going on in his lab, Jason said, “and I’m interested in all of them.”

Dr. Whitsett was the keynote speaker at Upstate’s 2015 Student Research Day, where he lectured on pulmonary alveolar formation, function and disease.

Jason will live across the Ohio border in Kentucky, and hopes to occasionally take Dr. Whitsett up on his offer to hunt and fish on his ranch in Kentucky. Jason has gone salmon fishing on the Salmon River, among other fishing trips. Those outings are among many good memories of his five years at Upstate.

“A lot of it’s the people,” he said. “Other students in my class, and above and below me, we all get along well. Random trips, fishing, barbecues . . . I was president of the Graduate Student Association for two or three years, and Business Agent at Large in the Graduate Student Employees Union.”

Other pluses, Jason said, include the first-year lab rotations, collaboration inside and outside of Upstate, travel to conferences, first-author publications, and a very reasonable cost of living.

“This is a big place for (landing) post-docs,” Jason said, listing Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Cornell and industry jobs as recent destinations for graduates. “People can get jobs by coming here.”

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Upstate ‘Peds Pals’ enjoy a special day at Paige’s Butterfly Run

SUNY Upstate

"Little Pal" Eliza Juma, center, with graduate assistant Heather Potts, left, and Upstate medical student Kethia Eliezer, right, at Paige's Butterfly Run in Syracuse. Kethia said the best parts of the event were hanging out with Eliza and introducing her to friends along the course.

Medical students in Upstate’s “Peds Pals” program raised more than $400 at Paige’s Butterfly Run this month, but their efforts brought even greater rewards.

Two “little pals” and five “big pals” took part in the annual event named for Paige Arnold, an 8-year-old who died of cancer 21 years ago.

Her parents started the Butterfly Run in 1997, and it now generates more than $200,000 each year for Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. Paige’s has raised more than $2 million overall for treatment, research and family assistance.

“Peds Pals” matches Upstate medical students with young patients at the Waters Center for Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders, and is funded by Paige’s Butterfly Run.

“This is the first year they have had a team, but several of the big pals ran the 5K last year,” said Kristi Griffin, Education Specialist at the Waters Center. “Paige’s donates over $20,000 for my Champions Again Fund that includes Peds Pals. This fund is also used for support for neuropsychological evaluations and educational advocacy for our patients.”

Medical students Gabby Izzo, Joe DeMari, Kethia Eliezer and Victoria Fairchild (Peds Pal team organizer) took part in Paige’s Butterfly Run, as did Griffin’s graduate assistant, Heather Potts.

SUNY Upstate

Connor Licamele

Gabby, Joe and Kethia shared their thoughts on sharing the event with their “little pals.”

“To me, taking part in Paige’s Butterfly Run is a chance to give back to and to stay involved with the SUNY Upstate Medical University community,” said Kethia, who walked the 3K with little pal Eliza Juma. “I explained to Eliza what the walk was all about and what it meant. She just smiled and said, ‘OK.’ She is a girl of few words and it was her first time ever participating in something like that, but I saw how excited she was to be part of it and be around all those people.”

Gabby and Joe composed the following after running the 3K with little pal Connor Licamele:

“Paige’s Butterfly Run is about honoring the children who have had to endure the fight against pediatric cancer.  The opportunity to participate in the race with Connor, the survivor we have grown to know and love, was truly a special experience for both of us.  Although in the past Connor would walk the race with his loved ones, this year he decided he wanted to run.

“Words cannot express how excited Connor was to run the race, and we were equally thrilled that he wanted to run it with us, his Peds Pals.  As we neared the finish line, we decided that we would sprint to the end.  Connor got tired but he didn’t give up; with his eyes closed, he could not have been more determined to finish.  As we crossed the finish line, Connor’s tongue out and breathing hard, he broke into a huge smile and we could tell how accomplished he felt having run the whole race.

“Connor’s determination to run was not unlike his determination to beat cancer, and we were so honored to have been able to participate in Paige’s run with such a wonderful and inspiring young man.”

SUNY Upstate

Upstate medical students Gabby Izzo and Joe DeMari flank "Little Pal" Connor Licamele at Paige's Butterfly Run June 6.


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