08/23/19

Research opportunities as an undergrad? Hana Fantin and Dr. Duriancik.

Are you getting enough Vitamin A in your diet? Most Americans are not Vitamin A deficient overall, but Assistant Professor of Biology David Duriancik and students like senior Hana Fantin are exploring how the aging process may affect Vitamin A levels in important immune cells across the human body.

Hana spent her summer as a SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) fellow. The program offers paid research opportunities for UM-Flint undergraduates. SURE not only provides important experiences and resume-building activities, but it can also replace the need for a summer job for many students.

Working under Dr. Duriancik has been important for Hana, who is a pre-veterinary student and is beginning the process of applying for veterinary school. If not for this research experience, Hana believes she wouldn’t have developed the level of technical skill she has now or been able to ask for an in-depth letter of recommendation. The experience in undergraduate research and SURE fellowship allowed Hana to continue working on professional skills that will translate to any career including veterinary medicine. One example was the opportunity to present her work at Michigan Physiological Society Meeting.

“These research experiences allow students to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills that translate to their future professions in a meaningful way,” Duriancik says. “I like working with young adults and seeing their excitement when something works and providing some guidance when things don’t work as expected.”

STRA6

Pronounced like straw-six, STRA6 is a Vitamin A transport protein expressed by all human immune cells; it provides the mechanism that allows Vitamin A to move across those cells. Preliminary data show that the aging process may decrease the expression of STRA6, which can lead to health complications.

To further understand this process, Hana and Dr. Duriancik have been investigating where exactly STRA6 binds in the cell. The hypothesis was that STRA6 would bind with lipid rafts in the cell membrane; it does not.

The next step is to discover exactly where STRA6 binds in immune cells. Hana has been creating holo-retinol-binding protein (which Vitamin A travels in the blood bound to) ligand to help discover where STRA6 binds in human immune cells.

“If we can figure out how to get STRA6 expression on these aged cells, then we may be able to overcome some of that impairment in immune function,” Duriancik explains. “This can apply to other disease conditions associated with chronic inflammatory states, like obesity, autoimmune diseases, and even could play a role in informing vaccine strategies.”

To learn more

Students can learn more about becoming a SURE fellow online. You can also see more about the work being done in the Department of Biology.

08/21/19

English Prof Kazuko Hiramatsu earns NSF grant to study teaching methods in linguistics

Kazuko Hiramatsu is an Associate Professor of Linguistics in the Department of English.

For Associate Professor Kazuko Hiramatsu, it isn’t enough to be an expert in her chosen field of linguistics. She seeks to constantly improve her teaching methods, and wants to help fellow linguistics professors become better educators as well. A grant from the National Science Foundation will help her to create a community of like-minded scholars dedicated to improving the ways in which linguistics is taught to students.

The $67,000 NSF grant, awarded through the Linguistic Society of America, supports Hiramatsu and co-principal investigator Michal Temkin Martinez of Boise State University in creating a year-long Faculty Learning Community (FLC). The group of 12 professors from across the country will focus on the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL) in linguistics. Each participant will explore a particular issue they encounter in teaching the subject; no topics have been selected yet, but there are myriad challenges available to study. For example, how is phonetics, the study of speech sounds, best presented in an online class? And how can you best teach syntactic trees, a very visual concept, to visually impaired students?

One possible topic for the Faculty Learning Community to explore is how best to present syntactic trees like this to visually impaired students.

Hiramatsu first became interested in the benefits of FLCs when she participated in an FLC focused on service learning offered through UM-Flint’s own Thompson Center for Teaching & Learning.

“We set the agenda together; we are equal participants in learning from one another. I love that it’s not hierarchical and not structured around committees,” Hiramatsu says. “Through this FLC, we can become ambassadors, in a sense, for our field. I’ve realized the importance of sharing my learning beyond just my own institution. We could help others rethink what they are doing in the classroom.”

Hiramatsu and her colleagues will meet virtually every two weeks to discuss their work, with two in-person workshops. In the first half of the year, the learning community will study existing scholarship on teaching and learning. The second half of the year will be devoted to projects focused on the individual classrooms of participants. Not only will the group discuss their findings among themselves, but they will also create materials to share with the wider linguistics community, helping to advance teaching methods in both K-12 and higher education.

It’s the kind of work that’s perfectly suited for a UM-Flint professor; directly benefitting local students while having a positive impact worldwide.

“We pride ourselves in being teacher-scholars at UM-Flint, and Dr. Hiramatsu’s work in creating this Faculty Learning Community exemplifies those values,” Susan Gano-Phillips, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, explains. “I look forward to the advances made during this project being implemented both here on campus and in schools worldwide.”

Interested in learning more about Linguistics?

Interested in learning more about the scientific study of language? Consider the Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. In just 15 credits, you’ll be prepared to teach English across the world.

Courses in linguistics being offered Winter 2020:

Introduction to Linguistics
#HowWeTalkNow
The Structure of English
Language & Culture
American English