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Senior Does Hands-On Research

Posted on May 9th, 2007

Rebecca Drooger examines a stained histological sample from the anterior prostate of a mouse. Using a Nikon Eclipse E200 photomicroscope, Rebecca Drooger examines a stained histological sample from the anterior prostate of a mouse.
Photos by Matt Styer

Doing research on mice prostates may not be every student’s first choice of a special endeavor, but it proved rewarding in several ways for a recent EMU biology graduate.

“When I came to EMU, I hoped to be part of some intensive, faculty-supported research during my undergrad years,” says Rebecca J. Drooger. “Collecting and analyzing data over a two-year period has been an amazing learning experience and was especially exciting when I found statistically significant results from my data on the prostate,” she adds.

Her research studied the responses of the young adult mouse prostate to neonatal phytoestrogen exposure. Drooger describes it as studying the effect of “chemicals produced by plants that are similar in structure to human estrogen,” such as that found in soy-based products, on young mice.

The results could have implications for cancer studies that consider whether a diet high in such products has an impact on the advancement of prostate cancer.

‘Best Research’ in 25 Years

Roman J. Miller, professor of biology, says it’s some of the best research he’s seen in his 25 years at EMU and believes it is publishable material.

“Rebecca’s consistency, keen insights, dedication, dependability, and hard work were exemplary,” Dr. Miller says of the work she spearheaded, together with three other students.

Drooger came to EMU on an honors scholarship and majored in biology with minors in Spanish and chemistry. At the university’s 89th commencement Apr. 29, she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree.

This summer she plans to study for and take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), apply to medical schools, work at Harvard University’s library and travel to Nazareth, Israel under the auspices of Virginia Mennonite Board of Missions to teach English to Arabic-speaking children.

She eventually hopes to become a physician, perhaps focusing on endocrinology, and work in a Spanish-speaking community.

Cross-cultural study in Costa Rica will help with that. As will the volunteer work she did in the emergency department of Rockingham Memorial Hospital the past three years and language tutoring with migrants following the apple harvest near Harrisonburg.

In addition to that community service, Drooger spent one semester of study in the Middle East.

Rebecca Drooger graduates with honors Apr. 29e Rebecca Drooger graduates with honors Apr. 29, receiving her BA degree in biology from EMU President Loren Swartzendruber.
Photo by Jim Bishop

EMU’s Med School Acceptance Rate High

“This kind of well-rounded undergrad experience will certainly enhance Rebecca’s application to medical school,” notes Miller. EMU pre-med graduates boast an 85 percent acceptance rate into medical school, well above the national average of 40 percent.

EMU pre-med majors must complete two credit hours of research experience to graduate. The options include an independent research project, such as Drooger and her colleagues completed, or a research course.

“A distinctive of the small liberal arts college experience for undergraduate science students is our ability to take students into our laboratories so that they can collaborate in a research experience with a professor,” says Miller.

He notes that EMU’s ratio of faculty to students involved in research is better than many other institutions, particularly large institutions, where students simply can’t get the kind of mentoring they do at a smaller college like EMU.

“This project was successful because Dr. Miller was always available to assist and encourage me along the way,” says Drooger.

See more about EMU pre-professional health services program at: www.emu.edu/biology

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