Campus: CSU Fullerton -- October 28, 2005

Two Undergraduates Named MARC Scholars at Cal State Fullerton

Two Cal State Fullerton students are learning what it takes to be research scholars as they probe DNA replication related to antibiotics and twin behavior under a federally funded program that encourages them to consider a future as scientists.

Kevin Chavarria of Mission Viejo, a senior psychology major, and Timothy Richard Parenteau of Rancho Cucamonga, a junior biological science major, are the latest scholars to join Cal State Fullerton's Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program.

The program was established 10 years ago with funding from the National Institutes of Health. This year, the program is supported with a $247,080 NIH grant.

The goal, says Amybeth Cohen, program director and associate professor of biological science, is to expose undergraduate students to the type of research and skills that will help them enter and succeed in graduate programs. "The idea is to give them the preparation to compete for slots at the top schools in the country."

Chavarria always has been interested in conducting research in psychology, so the opportunity to join the MARC program seemed auspicious. He is the first student outside the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics ever selected for the program. Earlier this year, he began working with psychology professor Nancy Segal, the university's 2005 Outstanding Professor Award honoree, on a study of how fraternal and identical twins perceive their twin's children in various aspects of their lives.

"I like the experience and have learned a lot about research," said Chavarria, who already has attended two conferences and will be preparing posters and writing papers to present at future conferences. "I know now that I definitely want a future in research and will be looking into a doctoral program geared toward that."

"It's great to have a bright, young, enthusiastic undergraduate interested in research," said Segal. "I get great pleasure in being able to share my experiences and help Kevin on to a terrific career."

Parenteau, meanwhile, has been active in the lab of Marcelo Tolmasky, professor of biological science. As part of his research, he is watching the replication of antibiotic DNA, using real-time equipment.

"So far, I have been learning about the equipment and drawing samples," said Parenteau, who plans to specialize in medical research. "You learn different concepts in class and hear about their applications, but you can't really visualize it until you're in the lab, doing the research. It makes everything come to life."

The MARC program "offers students the opportunity to do research and not have to work or worry about funding," said Tolmasky. "These kinds of programs are great."

Chavarria and Parenteau join continuing MARC scholars Diego Miranda of Anaheim and Paul Gerard of Fullerton. The two biological science seniors spent the summer working in labs in England, gaining experience in and exposure to the atmosphere of a doctoral-level research facility.

Miranda, who works with Tolmasky, and Gerard, who conducts research under the direction of Cohen, are expected to graduate next year.

Program participants are required to complete specific science courses, conduct an average of 15 hours of research per week during both semesters of the academic year plus full time for eight weeks in the summer, conduct a specific research project that will culminate in a senior thesis, and defend their findings before a thesis committee at the end of the program.

MARC scholars attend a weekly seminar where they read scientific papers, learn how to develop research presentations and hear from guest speakers they invite to the sessions. They also are expected to attend and deliver presentations at local and national professional meetings.

The program provides each student with an annual stipend of about $10,000, as well as funding for travel, supplies and materials. MARC also pays participants' school fees and provides a GRE preparation course.

"It's a lot of hard work," said Cohen, who has mentored five previous scholars. "We expect a lot of them. But if they rise to the challenge, they do well."

Since 1995, 23 students have completed the two-year program and gone on to doctoral and master's degree programs at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and USC.

Media Contacts:
Amybeth Cohen, director of the MARC program, at (714) 278-2178 or acohen@fullerton.edu
Pamela McLaren of Public Affairs at (714) 278-4852 or pmclaren@fullerton.edu


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