Recipients of Merck Internships for Excellence in Science Named

WASHINGTON, Pa. (June 4, 2013)—Seven Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) students will spend the summer conducting cutting-edge research in world-renowned facilities as this year’s recipients of Merck Internships for Excellence in Science at W&J awards.

Initiated in 2008 through funding from the Merck Institute for Science Education, the program is designed to support W&J students in their efforts to land prestigious research internships in the sciences.

Leslie Deutschman, junior biochemistry major; Lauren Fisher, junior chemistry and philosophy major; Zach Drennen, sophomore biochemistry major; Tyler Geshay, junior cell and molecular biology major; Rachel Guest, junior chemistry and business major; Carli Obeldobel, sophomore cell and molecular biology major; and Julie Pacilio, junior chemistry major, are this year’s recipients.

“We could not be more proud of this group of students,” said Candy DeBerry, Ph.D., associate professor of biology at W&J. “Thanks to Merck, these very talented students have the opportunity to gain invaluable experience that will open many doors for them.”

Deutschman is a graduate of Valley High School in New Kensington, Pa. She will study DNA repair mechanisms in the plant Arabidopsis thaliana in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Schlögelhofer at the University of Vienna, Austria.

“This award means a great deal to me because it means that I can travel to Europe for the first time in my life and conduct new and exciting research on a never before explored DNA repair protein complex,” Deutschman said. “This summer internship will help me to build my scientific background and knowledge while I experience a foreign culture. As my last internship did, I am sure that this internship will open many doors to my future that I could not have opened alone.”

Fisher is from California, Pa., and valedictorian of the California High School Class of 2010. She will return to the laboratory of W&J alumnus Dr. William Cruikshank at Boston University School of Medicine to continue the research on the molecular mechanisms underlying the development of asthma that she started during her 2012 Merck-funded internship.

“I was awarded the Merck grant last summer to spend eleven weeks at Boston University School of Medicine working in the Pulmonary Center and was awarded the same grant to go back again this summer to continue my research,” Fisher said. “Without this grant I would not have been able to spend my summer pursuing my dreams, and I am most grateful for this extraordinary opportunity.”

Drennen, a graduate of Westmont Hilltop High School in Johnstown, Pa., will study the efficacy of radiofrequency ablation of nerves for treating chronic pain in the laboratory of Dr. David Provenzano at Ohio Valley General Hospital in McKees Rocks, Pa.

“W&J’s thoughtful guidance in my career planning, its high regard as a premedical college and its caring alumni connections has afforded me these opportunities and has helped prepare me for a future in medicine. Washington & Jefferson College has helped guide me in finding and obtaining amazing summer internship opportunities. I would not have found these great experiences had I attended another college,” Drennen said.

Geshay will return to the laboratory of Dr. David Binion at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine to continue the research on the molecular basis of inflammatory bowel disease that he conducted during his 2012 Merck-funded internship.

A graduate of Penfield High School in Rochester, N.Y., Guest will study gene expression changes in the rat brain during learning, in the laboratory of Dr. Astrid Valles-Sanchez at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.

“Being awarded the Merck stipend was vital to my ability to accept this research opportunity. Not only will my experience this summer provide me with the opportunity to play a pivotal role in exciting research that has implications for the process of human learning, but I will be forced to acclimate to a culture different from my own, an experience that would not have been as possible in the United States or without this award,” Guest said.

Obeldobel will study the effects of nicotine on human lung development with W&J alumna Dr. Diane Carlisle at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

A graduate of South Park High School in Pittsburgh, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in a yet to be determined specialty.

“I am still exploring areas of interest within the biological field and I am thrilled to be working in Dr. Carlisle’s laboratory this summer,” Obeldobel said. “This opportunity will provide me with valuable knowledge and first-hand experience in a working research program.  I appreciate the funding from the Merck Internships for Excellence in Science Program that will support my research.”

Pacilio is a graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh. She will study the role of blood vessel development in pulmonary hypertension with Dr. Jeffrey Isenberg at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“Without this grant, I would not have been able to take the opportunity to work at the University of Pittsburgh’s Vascular and Pulmonary Institute because I would have had to get a job instead to save money for next year,” Pacilio said. “Now I can pursue what I really want to do because of the Merck Grant from W&J.”

Richard Clark, a former chairman of Merck, 1968 graduate of W&J and chairman of its board of trustees, said, “The Merck Internships for Excellence in Science program is consistent with Merck's long tradition of supporting programs that expand capacity for training in biomedical and health sciences, engineering and technology in order to help foster the next generation of scientific leaders.”

Internship fellowships are awarded on a competitive basis, giving science faculty the flexibility to match the most exciting research opportunities with the best qualified students, DeBerry said.

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Carli Obeldobel, Leslie Deutschman, Julie Pacilio and Zach Drennen