A Summer of Cells and Sunshine

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Rolando D.Z. Lyles

lyles1bI spent my Summer in beautiful Miami, FL home of the cool ocean breeze, beautiful palm trees, and where the temperature is rarely below 70 degrees. However, my stay in the city wasn’t to just sulk in the sun. I was given the amazing opportunity to participate and contribute to the ongoing prostate cancer research lab of Dr. Kerry Burnstein at the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine. This opportunity was perfectly aligned with my future desires to become a researching professor. What made it better was that I have been interested in the research being conducted in Dr. Burnstein’s lab for the past 2 years and to secure a position in her University of Miami lab for a Summer was surreal for me. Furthermore, for this Summer in particular, it was important for me to be stationed in Miami because my father who is fervently battling with prostate cancer lives there and I don’t want to miss any opportunities to secure lasting memories with him.

In the lab, I worked under the direct tutelage of Dr. Burnstein and Dr. Meghan Rice. Dr.lyles2 Burnstein’s Lab and team not only welcomed me with open arms, but gave me my own project that intersected with the other projects that were being conducted by the other members of the lab. I wasn’t just sitting around doing menial lab tasks; I was actually contributing to the progression of science. My specific project involved 3D culturing prostate cancer cell lines on a special scaffold type that was acquired through a collaboration with another university. Unlike traditional lyles43D cancer cell culturing scaffolds, this scaffold didn’t only allow the cells to grow in a more natural spherical form, but it prompted the cells to cluster into micro-tumoriods as would be seen only in in vivo conditions. My task was to first run experiments to determine how to optimize the growing conditions for different cell lines with varying gene knockouts. This then transitioned to conducting separate five to six day experiments which involved culturing, fixing, probing then staining these cell lines in order to use confocal imaging techniques to visualize tumoroid growth and make comparisons across cell populations. These scaffolds have the potential to revolutionize the personalized care sector of cancer medicine by creating an inexpensive system for culturing patient lyles3biopsies and then tailoring specific treatments for improving that patient’s cancer by monitoring tumoriod progression.

Not only was this experience extremely enlightening but it has also helped propel my desires to continue my education after I graduate and pursue a doctorate degree. My time in Miami was spent just as would be expected. I spent my weekdays (an occasional Saturdays) conducting experiments in the lab. My evenings and weekends were spent with family enjoying quality time and embracing all that Miami has to offer. It was so fulfilling every day to wake up, get dressed and spend my day contributing to something that can potentially help better piece together our understanding of cancer, and save countless lives. One of the most gratifying parts of this Summer experience is that maybe one day in the future when the scaffolds are widely used throughout clinical research I can proudly say that I was one of the first researchers to ever work with them. As an undergraduate! Opportunities such as mine this past summer are what create tomorrow’s leaders.




An Taisce

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here. This entry is by Agatha Leach, LPS, Masters of Environmental Studies, ’16

This summer I received a fantastic opportunity to work with An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, a charity that preserves and protects Ireland’s natural and built heritage. As a graduate student in the Masters of Environmental Studies program, I have been fortunate to combine my academic interests in land preservation and resource management with my abiding interest in Irish history. Though a small island, Ireland’s tremendous natural beauty has supported a green tourism sector critical to the nation’s overall economy. Despite the heady beauty of the place, aspects of Ireland’s environmental policies and standards poorly address issues of pressing environmental concern. Ireland’s large and poorly regulated transport and agriculture sectors have spurred a long list of issues, including dismal municipal water quality, polluted rivers, high greenhouse gas emissions, and a precipitous decline in biodiversity across all habitats and biomes. For Ireland, whose largest economic sectors are agriculture and tourism, the importance of addressing these issues is apparent. Nevertheless, a general public apathy towards the environment and an overwhelming tendency to produce Irish solutions to Irish problems has created a vicarious situation. In the absence of meaningful government interest in the environment, several key charities and organizations, such as An Taisce, have taken a leading role in protecting Ireland’s natural heritage.

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Cutting turf in the traditional way. Glenties, Co. Donegal, August 2015.

The research I undertook with An Taisce largely concerned the protection and stewardship of peatlands, a unique habitat environmentally and historically particular to Irish experience. Irish peatlands have traditionally been used for a variety of purposes, including domestic and commercial sources of indigenous fuel, agriculture, and forestry. However, 99% of actively growing raised bogs in Ireland have been destroyed and the remaining sites face increasing threat. The outright destruction of bogs particularly afflicts Counties Westmeath, Offaly, Leitrim, and Donegal, where the increasing turf extraction remains the largest unregulated land use in Ireland. Commercial turf extraction in Ireland falls under the purview of Bord na Móna, a semi-state organization charged with the extraction and maintenance of peatlands in Ireland. The environmental damage resulting from turf extraction is tremendous, and when completed through commercial techniques, proves irreversible. Water-storage capacity both locally and regionally can be reduced and this draining releases nutrients, heavy metals, sediments, and dissolved organic carbon into surrounding watersheds and soil. Effectively, draining bogs destroys pristine habitat for threatened bird and mammal species as well as increasing global greenhouse gas emissions.

Industrial peat excavation. Bog of Allen, Co. Kildare, July 2015.
Industrial peat excavation. Bog of Allen, Co. Kildare, July 2015.

In my experience, I see the protection of Irish peatlands facing two challenges. First, public backlash against peatland protection remains vehemently rooted in a tradition of hand-cutting turf from local bogs. Second, the availability of a massively cheap, indigenous fuel in an otherwise fossil fuel-poor nation leads to government sympathy towards turf extraction. In understanding these factors, it becomes clear that the battle to protect peatlands in the long run must address both obstacles to be successful. My work with An Taisce concerned the monitoring of peatlands through satellite imagery to determine bogs under active excavation, the extent of the excavation, and whether these sites currently hold legal planning permission to conduct such activities. The results suggested that the extent of extraction on a majority of sites required special planning permission from local authorities as well as multiple environmental impact assessments (EIAs), surveys commonly required in the case of any large-scale land development. As the majority of peat extraction continues without any regulation or permission, I was able to witness several situations capturing the utter disregard for Irish cultural and natural heritage that pervades this issue. One such case involved peat excavation from a bog in County Westmeath by a private company without planning permission, EIA, or any other license. It emerged that the excavation unearthed a bog road, or togher, dating from 1200-800 BC, a significant archaeological discovery to both Irish and European culture. Despite many attempts over the course of the year by various organizations across Ireland to halt excavation in order to preserve the togher, the company continued to act outside the authority of critical planning regulation and so destroyed the artifact without fear or repercussion. image 3 The experience with An Taisce so strengthened my passion for environmental stewardship, not only in seeing firsthand the blatant destruction of cultural heritage, but also by working with those who serve to protect natural habitats. This opportunity was only possible due to a grant provided through Career Services at Penn, and I am deeply thankful for the help they provided throughout the summer.

It’s All About the “Grits”

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Ping Nguyen

My professors often say that the most significant life lessons are not learned in a classroom setting, but they are deeply rooted in life experiences of others. In a social work classroom, one of my professors introduced to me the idea of “grits” by a fellow Penn professor Angela Duckworth. Duckworth defines “grits” as a combination of passion and resilience expressed over a period of time. A person is “gritty” when they can bounce back from failures, continue to strive hard for their dreams, and sustain this attitude over an extended period of time.  I never truly grasp the sagacity of Professor Duckworth’s concept of “grits” until I met a cohort of low-income, single Vietnamese mothers.

nguyen1As an intern for Children of Vietnam, one of my roles is to write narratives about the beneficiaries of the organization. As such, I got to travel to many low-income Vietnamese mothers’ house to interview them about their life stories and the challenges they encounter. As a low-income student in United States, I can understand what poverty looks like in America. However, I cannot imagine living in the conditions that these women were living under. Some women started their days at 4:00 am; some walked 3 hours under the scorching sun to get to work and must take the same journey home; some had to tend over their disabled children while working on the land. All never understood what it was like to have a day off or what a “good life” is like, yet none has ever given nguyen2up. These Vietnamese mothers truly believe that they can have better lives for themselves and for their children if they continue to work hard and if they do not give up . When asked about happiness, they say that they find happiness in a little things – being able to have rice on the table, to be able to purchase new clothes for their children even if it is once a year, or simply to have the strength to continue the next day labor. Although some days are harder than others, these are the little things that keep them going everyday. I have never witnessed such resiliency, love and passion towards life until I met these women.

nguyen3One of my life greatest privileges is having the opportunity to meet these women. They have enriched my life with many lessons. Although I love touching the soil of my ancestors, eating the food of my childhood, and breathing the air of my people, the profound lesson of traveling is more witnessing breathtaking sites or cuddling in happiness. The truth is that there is more to life than happiness. Happiness can play a critical part in one’s life and everyone deserves to feel happy. But it cannot be the ultimate prize. The lesson here is to be “gritty” in life and to truly live a meaningful life – to feel the ups and the downs, to pursue our passion regardless of obstacles, and to flow with the ripples of time.

nguyen4At the University of Pennsylvania, I often complain about the workload, the internship, the balancing of life in general….also known as “the ultimate struggle bus” and at times, I want to throw in my towels and call it a day. Yet having witnessed the struggles of others and how they dealt with their struggles, I learn on how to embrace my own “struggle bus,” enjoy the ride, and steer my life towards the direction of my choosing. Most importantly, I must not give up! Without a doubt, I was one of the most fortunate students at University of Pennsylvania to be given this opportunity.

Sharing in Lives Through an Externship

This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Sarah Ku, Nursing ’16

kuThis summer, I spent 8 weeks externing at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Northeast Philadelphia. I learned an incredible amount about cancer both at the bedsides of patients and also through the observational opportunities I was given. One of my most unforgettable days was when I observed in the Operating Room. I witnessed the excision of borders around a facial lesion which were then sent to pathology to be tested for cancerous cells. Fortunately, none of the borders were cancerous and by the time I came back from the surgical pathology room, the surgeon had already removed the lesion and was sewing the patient’s skin back together. This process was insightful as to how some cancers are diagnosed and can be immediately treated.

The information I learned regarding more terminal cancers were made on the floor of a medical oncology unit. During my first couple weeks, I witnessed a patient code, or have cardiopulmonary arrest. Throughout my clinicals, none of my patients ever coded so seeing the efficiency of procedures that occurred after the code was called was something I never would have expected to see. Unfortunately, this particular patient could not be resuscitated and I learned some first-hand post-mortem care as well.

Of course, not every one of my days at my externship were as eventful or insightful as the two I mentioned. Most days I learned about the true nature of nursing which included timing patient care, phrasing information in the most accurate but least painful way, making patients comfortable, and cleaning up patients who soiled their beds because they could not make it to their restrooms. Some days were more difficult than others and sometimes, my patience ran thin even though I had the amazing opportunity to help people with terminal illnesses feel better physically and emotionally. It was difficult to wake up at 4:45 AM, take a train and a bus, make it on to the floor by 6:30 AM, work a 12 hour shift and make the same commute back home. Still, by the end of my internship, I can honestly say that I still love nursing and the population of cancer patients.

I believe that the greatest lesson I learned this summer was not really about cancer at all. I think it was learning to be human, to find humanity in every situation I am in, and to embrace that humanity once it is found. This lesson came from the countless connections that I made with patients. It came from realizing that even though I was a nurse extern, I was still human and could relate to a patient’s husband because we both shared the struggle of overcoming language and cultural barriers. It came from finding the humanity in death and embracing that humanity because every life was so full and beautiful. Deaths became more about the lives they lived than their endings. How lucky I am that my future career is not only to take care of people, but to meet people, to listen to their stories, and share our lives with each other.


This is the next in a series of posts by recipients of the Career Services Summer Funding grant.  We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they’ve been spending the summer.  You can read the entire series here.

This entry is by Hannah Grossman, COL ’16

This summer, I spent time at two non profit organizations, New Leaders in New York City and Springboard Collaborative in Philadelphia, which are devoted to closing the achievement gap in our schools. New Leaders develops educators across the country into effective school leaders by helping them create a vision of student success that engages the whole staff. Springboard Collaborative sets up a reading program for inner city elementary students.

My jobs at the two organizations varied greatly. At New Leaders, I assisted in moving a handbook for school leaders towards publication. The book outlines the organization’s leadership development framework, making it an accessible tool for schools across the country. As I helped collect data on student progress and spoke with some of the leaders who had worked with the organization, I was inspired by the clear and positive impact New Leaders was making; it could be seen through both the numbers and personal feedback.

It was through my internship with Springboard Collaborative that I was able to see positive results come to life. As an Operations Lead intern, based within Belmont Charter School in West Philadelphia, I was responsible—along with a school leader and eight of Belmont’s teachers—to implement Springboard’s reading program for Pre-K through 2nd grade students. The program served as a reading day camp for these students, many of whom were required to attend summer school in order to move on to the next grade. The Springboard model also coaches teachers, trains family members, and incentivizes learning in order to ensure reading success for each student. Every Wednesday, a parent or guardian attended a workshop with their Springboard scholar. Each workshop supplied them with a tool or strategy to use when reading with their child at home, ranging from asking questions before starting a book to reading like a storyteller. Springboard’s goal, through daily instruction and weekly workshops, was to transform a six week period in the summer that is usually characterized by reading loss into an opportunity for reading gain. The results were clear: the majority of these students demonstrated a three-month reading gain, allowing them to move forward in school more confident than they had left off in June. For many families, it introduced home as a new learning space for their kids.

While through very different outlets, there was a unifying characteristic of these organizations that undoubtedly contributed to their success: they were both resourceful. They provided power and strategy to people that had previously been underutilized. By fostering internally, both organizations are recognizing the value of people who are part of a school’s culture in creating sustainable change. School leaders and families of students are too often written off in discussions on how to improve education. While I was not fortunate enough to work with New Leaders’ principals directly, I did see firsthand the undeniable dedication of many parents at Springboard. When a family workshop was missed, I had parents meet with me immediately after their nightshift and cousins come in place of parents who did not speak enough English to feel comfortable alone. I had a mother who called me each week for extra reading tips in addition to those taught during workshops. This only made it clearer that the love parents have for their children cannot, and should not, be ignored in the search for sound solutions to the achievement gap.

I am incredibly grateful to Penn Career Services for granting me the funding that made my summer with New Leaders and Springboard Collaborative possible. Although the current state of urban education can be discouraging, I feel fortunate to have been able to contribute to two organizations that are bringing innovative and successful initiatives to education reform.