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By Amy Topkok
Andrej Podlutskys an associate professor of molecular biology in the Department of Biology and Wildlife at UAF and a BLaST Faculty Pilot Project awardee. He earned his Ph.D. in biophysics at the Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics in Russia. Before coming to Alaska, his research journey included Germany, Sweden, Maryland, Connecticut, Idaho, and Texas. Podlutsky enjoys reading science fiction, beekeeping, and hiking, especially in Alaska’s Brooks Range and the Caucasia hills in Europe.
Research in the Podlutsky lab centers around genomic stability, DNA repair mechanisms, and using the cell culture as a model for studying and training. Some of the projects that he and his undergraduate students are working on include investigating the DNA repair dynamics in cancerous cell lines, studying DNA repair efficiency in virally-infected cells, and inventing new ways to measure the DNA damage and repair. As an outcome of their research efforts, his students have presented at many national and state-wide conferences, such as the Annual Experimental Biology conference, University of Alaska – Biomedical Research Conference, UAF Research and Creative Scholarly Activity Day, and UAF Midnight Sun Science Symposium.
"Mentoring undergraduate students is both hard work, and the biggest joy of my job. Hard work because no undergraduate students are the same and I need to find a person-specific approach with each student. Biggest joy because it is very rewarding to see the enthusiasm and energy in the students and be able to help them to realize their potential and help them to be successful in their research and study," Podlutsky said.
Over the past five years, his lab has been a home for research projects, and the training ground for six BLaST scholars, 13 Undergraduate Research Experience students, eight other undergraduates, and two Graduate Mentoring and Research Assistants.
Since joining UAF in 2012, Podlutsky has enhanced learning by including real life experiences from history and medicine in his courses Cell and Molecular Biology (BIOL 360), Introduction to Biology of Cancer (BIOL 435), and Biology of Aging (BIOL 493). Podlutksy fosters a productive and creative environment for students that also encourages critical thinking. He utilizes advanced teaching and learning methods, and innovative platforms in his classes such as flipped classroom, peer-to-peer learning, cooperative learning, and open discussion groups.
AY19 BLaST Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) student Brandaise Callahan (l), past URE Milbia Fuller (front middle),
past Scholar Brandon Kowalski (back middle), AY19 URE Daniel McCoy (r), with UAF faculty mentork, Andrej Podlutsky (far right), April 19, 2019.
Photo credit: Amy Topkok, BLaST.
Stephanie Kennedy, a second-year Graduate Mentoring Research Assistant (GMRA), graduated with her Ph.D. in environmental chemistry from the University of Alaska Fairbanks this past May, 2019. She has been accepted into an immunology postdoctoral fellowship position at the Boston Children’s Hospital through Harvard University. She holds a B.S. in zoology from Colorado State University and a M.S. in marine science from San José State University. She loves the outdoors and spends her free time running, painting, traveling, cross country skiing, rock climbing, and camping with friends.
Kennedy and her colleagues in the Wildlife Toxicology Laboratory, Molecular Immunology Laboratory, Marine Ecotoxicology and Trophic Assessment Laboratory (METAL), Neuroscience Laboratory, Alaska Department of Fish & Game, and Marine Mammal Laboratory have published three papers in immunology, toxicology, and ecology of endangered Steller sea lions. Kennedy and Roger Vang, a past BLaST Undergraduate Research Experience (URE) awardee, are working on publishing two more papers on the immune status of Steller sea lion pups by comparing immuno-globulin and cytokine concentrations in pups from different regions where pup production has not recovered after significant population decline. Kennedy also hopes to develop a two week BLaST Scholar’s program at the Boston Children’s Hospital in the coming years to learn new skill sets and network.
Kennedy’s mentoring philosophy is to be humble, objective, and compassionate. By displaying these attributes, Kennedy inspires her mentees to find out what motivates them. She believes the core of teaching and mentoring in science is being open and honest about what we don’t know, while providing the most cohesive background knowledge in science that is possible. This becomes the building blocks to understanding and forming consistent learning objectives, realizing the importance of the scientific method, and enhancing the usefulness of science to meet the needs of a community. Kennedy has mentored three URE students, and three other undergraduates.
Kennedy’s teaching experience includes several semesters of Anatomy and Physiology II (BIO214X), and Immunology (DVM 606/ BIO465) since 2017. Kennedy has taught over 70 students since she has been at UAF.
“It’s important to find something that is of interest to them and find inquiries that spark their passion. From that, we can build from relating general scientific concepts to their interests. Exploring scientific inquiry, and building skill sets using basic concepts are best learned while actually performing a task rather than reading about them,” she said.
Conducting fieldwork in the Aleutian Islands, (left to right): Mandy Keogh, Alaska Fish and Game (AF&G) Wildlife Physiologist; Stephanie Kennedy, and Michael Rehberg, - AF&G Wildlife Biologist and Program Leader,
Photo credit Vladimir Berkanov; MMPA permit 18537.
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.