WMU program raising funds to put research students in community

Contact: Deanne Puca
Photo of Dr. Kathryn Docherty.


KALAMAZOO—Two Western Michigan University faculty members have launched a unique online crowdfunding campaign to raise money locally for a program that benefits both their students and the local community.

Drs. Kathryn Docherty and Sharon Gill, both assistant professors in the Department of Biological Sciences, hope to raise $20,000 online by May 1 to support four academically advanced biological sciences students and their summer research projects while also committing these students to work in the community each week. The money will allow these students to focus on their projects without worrying about covering their living expenses or research materials during the summer.

The Students Advancing Biological Research and Engagement, or SABRE,program is designed to connect students with the Kalamazoo community. These students have demonstrated a strong research work ethic that has distinguished them for the program. They will each spend at least 10 hours a week volunteering for a Kalamazoo-area organization of their choice. In September, WMU will host a reception for all donors, at which the SABRE scholars will discuss their research and volunteer experiences.  

Photo of Dr. Sharon Gill.


Supported by the WMU Office of Development and Alumni Relations, the program is accepting donations made online by those visiting mywmu.com/sabre and clicking on "Make a Gift." The unique fundraising campaign was started to build support and awareness for the program, which encourages student scholarship as well as giving back to the community.

"Students who engage with actively researched science faculty are better prepared for the rigors of graduate and medical school, and undertaking a mentored research experience is often one of the most influential experiences a science student can have as an undergraduate. Giving students the opportunity to emotionally connect with a scientific project really allows them to experience the excitement of scientific discovery, as well as develop critical thinking and scientific communication skills that prepare them for their careers," says Docherty.

The 2014 SABRE candidates are biological sciences students who will graduate in 2015. Their names, hometowns and a description of their science projects and community volunteer plans are below.

2014 SABRE candidates

  • Nicole Carpp of Lawrence, Mich., will work with Dr. John Spitsbergen, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences, to examine how certain types of proteins, called neurotrophic factors, influence neuron survival and development. She'll focus on a factor that is important for the survival and health of motor neurons that innervate skeletal muscle and are responsible for physical activity. A member of the Lee Honors College and a Medallion Scholar, she plans to volunteer at the Kalamazoo Youth Development Center to engage under-privileged students and cultivate a love for science at an early age.
  • Deirdre Courtney of Portage, Mich., will work Dr. David Karowe, professor of biological sciences, to investigate the potential effects of rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on the relationship between carnivorous pitcher plants and both the prey and non-prey communities that live inside them. Carnivorous plants are organisms that are particularly vulnerable to changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide composition and can act as an early indicator species in examining the effects of climate change. A member of the Lee Honors College, she transferred to WMU in 2011 and plans to do political volunteer work.
  • Sara Kaliszak of Mattawan, Mich., will work with Dr. Cindy Linn, professor of biological sciences, using a rat model to study glaucoma. Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure on the optic nerve and is a leading cause of blindness. Kaliszak's project analyzes the effects of a specific type of chemical that has been shown to prevent neurons in the retina from dying under glaucoma conditions. A member of the Lee Honors College, she plans to continue volunteering at Bronson Methodist Hospital in the Trauma and Emergency Care Department to assist the nursing staff with patient care.
  • Katie Walker of Flint, Mich., will work with Dr. Kathryn Docherty, assistant professor of biological sciences, to examine the biological effects of novel engineered chemicals. Newly designed green chemicals are meant to have a lower environmental impact than more toxic predecessors, but work is needed to predict the ability of these chemicals to be broken down by microorganisms in a wastewater treatment plant. A Medallion Scholar and member of the Lee Honors College, she plans continue her volunteer work at the Kalamazoo Youth Development Center, implementing a tutoring program for elementary, middle and high school students from Kalamazoo Public Schools.

For more information or to donate, visit mywmu.com/sabre.