The inspiration of a science teacher, compassion for classmates with special needs and a desire to help cancer patients motivate four Dedman College students to pursue biomedical research careers. Katherine Deland, Jasia Mahdi, Sarah Husseini and Brooke Wright will obtain valuable experience this summer to help them meet their goals as recipients of Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

The four honor students will spend 10 weeks pursuing individual research projects in the laboratories of UT Southwestern faculty members. In addition, they will attend weekly seminars given by faculty members and present the results of their research at the end of the summer. UT Southwestern selects 65 students for the fellowship each summer from applicants nationwide.

Read about the four students below.

23491D_017.jpg Katherine Deland (left), a sophomore biochemistry major, will study the role of double-stranded DNA breaks in brain tumors with Sandeep Burma, assistant professor of radiation oncology at UT Southwestern’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“I’ve always wanted to be a research scientist,” Deland says. “Studying cancer makes the most sense because I really want to help people.”

Deland, an honor student whose scholarships include Biomedical Researchers in Training (BRITE) and the William B. Stallcup Jr. Scholarship in Biology, has worked in two SMU biology faculty members’ labs and is a tutor at the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center. She’s also active in campus ministries.

“I am a curious person,” she says. “I want to keep learning and keep asking questions my whole life.”

23528D_002.jpg Sophomore chemistry major Sarah Husseini (right) became fascinated by the smallest particles of life in her SMU organic chemistry class.

“I am interested in how the human body works at the atomic and molecular levels,” she says.

Husseini’s fellowship with Xuewu Zhang, assistant professor of pharmacology, will emphasize the quantitative and physical sciences. Zhang studies signaling proteins at the atomic level.

A recipient of the Rotunda Scholarship, the Bertha Huffington Scholarship, the Harold Jeskey Scholarship and an SMU Distinguished Scholar, Husseini is grateful for the support of SMU’s Department of Chemistry.

“The best thing about SMU is the faculty members,” she says. “They are always available to help.”

23491D_027.jpg When junior Jasia Mahdi (left) was in elementary school she befriended two classmates with autism, helping them with homework and in the classroom. After graduating from SMU with majors in biochemistry and history, she
plans to earn an M.D./Ph.D. in neuroscience, and then conduct autism research and treat patients with autism.

A President’s Scholar and BRITE scholar, Mahdi has conducted research with Ed Biehl, professor of chemistry, since her first year at SMU.

“That experience has opened me up to the world of scientific research,” she says.

At UT Southwestern, Mahdi will study molecular signal mechanisms related to the sense of smell with Dean Smith, associate professor of neuroscience.

23491D_030.jpg Junior chemistry major Brooke Wright (right) credits her high school chemistry teacher with inspiring her love for science. She plans to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry, then research and teach chemistry at a university. She conducts research at SMU with chemistry faculty member Rajan Vempati.

Active in the SMU Chemistry Society, Wright is a BRITE scholar and a member of the SMU cheerleading squad. She is a recipient of the R.S. Lazenby Chemistry Scholarship and is an SMU Distinguished Scholar.

At UT Southwestern she’ll conduct research under Uttam Tambar, assistant professor of biochemistry. Tambar studies chemical synthesis and reactions of complex biological natural products.

“Being selected for the SURF program shows that these students are at the top of the pack statewide and nationally,” Biehl says. “I’m looking forward to the skills they will bring with them when they come back to SMU in the fall.”

– Nancy George