Undergraduate awarded for research



When sophomore Kate Kondratuk entered college as a freshman biology/pre-med major, she never dreamed that in one short year her work would be sought after by the largest life science organization in the world.

Yet Kondratuk’s research on the ability of viruses to attack immune cells did just that. In fact, her research was deemed so important to the scientific community that Kondratuk became the first student in the history of SDSU to win an American Society of Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship, which will completely fund her research and present her with the opportunity to present her findings at the American Society of Microbiology’s general meeting.

“I have always wanted to try researching,” Kondratuk said. “I knew it would look good on a medical school application, but I also just wanted to have the experience of researching to find new information. The challenge that the research process poses was very appealing to me.”

Although Kondratuk epitomizes the undergraduate research experience, she is certainly not alone in her efforts.

When most undergraduate students think of research, they picture a dark chemistry lab filled with the aroma of strange fumes and sound of squeaking lab rats, never dreaming of research as something they themselves could be a part of. However, undergraduate students have the opportunity to do just that.

“SDSU has one of the strongest undergraduate research programs in the region, and we are growing all the time,” Honors College Dean Timothy Nichols said.

Brent Kramer, a senior pre-med major, knew he would need research experience to get into med school, so he worked in the lab of Assistant Professor John Robinson over the summer.

“For the summer I learned how to culture mice cardiomyocytes (cardiac muscle cells),” Kramer said. “This is a technique that can only be carried out successfully by few sets of hands. I worked on multiple projects, but in the end my most successful project was assisting Jenna Guthmiller in her project of discovering the effects of nitrosated cysteine (organic amino acids) on live cardiomyocytes.”

Research opportunities span all kinds of majors and students.

“There are all different kinds of projects taking place all over campus,” Nichols said.

Senior math major Greg Tanner applied his love for mathematics and yearning for a challenge to his research experience.

“I enjoy the challenge of working on tough math problems,” Tanner said. “Most of my research was done with pencil, paper and brainpower. I spent most of my time looking for patterns and writing up proofs to explain the patterns.”

Senior Bri Graff, a wildlife and fisheries major, is currently working on research on four different subjects, including the habitual association of owls in eastern South Dakota, the effect of drought on the home range of female deer mice, the marginal increment analysis of otoliths (ear bones of fish) in walleyes and smallmouth bass, and identification of the larval fishes of glacial lakes and streams.

“Basically, most of it relates right back to managing wildlife populations and trying to understand the variables that affect wildlife and fish,” Graff said.

Research conducted by SDSU undergrads benefits not only the students, but also the larger academic community. Tanner wrote a paper that will be submitted to a math journal.

“The paper introduces a new variation of Rado number and gives formulae for these Rado numbers,” Tanner said. “This work is theoretical and does not have any direct application, but it is interesting, primarily because it expands current math knowledge.”

Undergrad researchers recommend SDSU for its positive and hands-on research environment.

“The opportunities we offer in the labs at SDSU are unmatched by most programs nationwide,” Kramer said. “For anybody seeking out research I would strongly suggest checking into what we have going on at SDSU. It won’t be long before our ‘diamond in the rough’ is discovered and undergraduate students from those ‘prestigious’ schools will be aspiring to spend their summers in Brookings.”