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Student Wins First Prize for Poster at International Conference

Jul 06, 2017


student presents neuroscience research in JapanRandolph-Macon College student Samantha "Sammi" Scarola '18 won first prize for her poster presentation at the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society (IBNS) annual meeting in Hiroshima, Japan, which took place June 26-30, 2017. The title of Scarola's research is Neuroeconomics of Motherhood: Investigating the neurobiological effects of restricted resources and threat presence in lactating maternal rats (Rattus norvegicus)—a project she worked on under the direction of R-MC Psychology Professor Massimo Bardi and former R-MC Psychology Professor Kelly Lambert.

The Research
"I spent last summer conducting a SURF (Schapiro Undergraduate Research Fellowship) project," explains Scarola of the research that ultimately led to her poster presentation. The SURF program offers students the opportunity to conduct 10 weeks of full-time, original research during the summer, under the mentorship of a faculty mentor. "I created a rodent model that allowed me to investigate the effects of socioeconomic status on maternal responsiveness and how the stress of these restricted resources influences the brains of the maternal rats, and ultimately, how this environment affects the offspring."

A Significant Award
"This is a very significant award, as Sammi competed with dozens of undergraduate students from all over the world," says Bardi, who serves as chair of the Psychology Department. "This is the third time that R-MC students won this prestigious award. They also won in 2010 and 2016."  Steven Neal '18, Jose Perdomo-Trejo '19, and Brooke Thompson '16 also presented their work at the conference. Scarola and Perdomo-Trejo, along with Megan Granger '18, are participating in this year's SURF program under the mentorship of Bardi.

Opportunities and Rewards
Scarola, a chemistry and behavioral neuroscience major, says that presenting her work at an international conference was incredibly rewarding.

"I was amazed that my undergraduate research was accepted by established scientists from all over the world," she says. "To be able to present my work alongside graduate students, post- docs, and professors from large institutions proved to me again what wonderful research opportunities R-MC offers its students."

A Passion for Neuroimmunology
The SURF project Scarola is working on this summer—The role of natural enrichment and acute stress on the immune response of Long Evans (Rattus norvegicus)—is completely different from last year's project.

"I have discovered a passion for neuroimmunology, so I created a project to investigate the immunomodulatory effects of factors including chronic stress, acute stress, and environmental enrichment," she says. "I hope that this work can ultimately be translated to improve medical care for patients with immunosuppressive diseases and aid in personalized care."

Programs such as SURF, says Scarola, give students unprecedented opportunities.

"This became quite apparent when researchers at the conference were shocked to hear that I was not a graduate student," she says. "Research opportunities and conferences prepare students for the future—and having the opportunity to travel and to interact with researchers is an enriching experience in itself."

On campus, Scarola is a member of Delta Zeta sorority and several honor societies, including Omicron Delta Kappa, Chi Beta Phi, Beta Beta Beta, Gamma Sigma Alpha, Rho Lambda, and the American Chemical Society. Her post-R-MC plans include medical school.

"I applied to medical schools and MD/Ph.D. programs last month," she says.  "I aspire to be a neurooncologist and want to continue to conduct research."