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From Climate Change to Public Health

CSH Dean’s Undergraduate Fellows confront today’s challenges with groundbreaking research.

​​​​​​​​​​​DePaul biology student Owen Laser has long had a passion for science. As one of the 2023 Dean's Undergraduate Fellows in the College of Science and Health, he was able to pursue this passion through an internship at Lincoln Park Zoo. 

The Dean's Undergraduate Fellowship is a competitive, 10-week paid summer research internship​​ that places students at a variety of world-class institutions in the Chicago area, from the Field Museum to Argonne National Laboratory.

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“Working at the zoo reminded me of the drive, love and passion that caused me to major in biology in the first place," Laser says.

For his project, Laser studied interactions between common milkweed and its most frequent pollinators, including honeybees, bumblebees, butterflies and moths. As a part of the endangered prairie ecosystem, common milkweed relies on these insects for fertilization, creating a powerful symbiotic relationship. 

“Because of this, I wanted to use it as a focal plant so I could see whether or not invasive European Honeybees had an effect on native species and/or on milkweed," Laser says.

Laser observed multiple patches of milkweed throughout the zoo's Nature Boardwalk to monitor and record insect behavior with the plants, finding that European Honeybees made up over 57% of insect visitors and likely extract more resources over the same time span as native species. Laser feels that the research is valuable, as insect pollination plays a pivotal role in food production and faces mounting pressure from climate change.

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Nena Trifunovic, a health sciences student, had a similarly transformative experience through the fellowship. Trifunovic worked as an epidemiology intern this past summer with the Chicago Public Health Department, using data from the Healthy Chicago Survey to study associations between neighborhood environments and loneliness - a growing public health concern. Trifunovic analyzed various factors, including neighborhood safety, violence, park use, and access to public transportation. Her statistical analyses are being used to inform a brief that will be published by the city.

Trifunovic looks forward to continuing her research in the future.

“This summer's internship helped me decide whether or not I wanted to pursue epidemiology and public health in general after my time at DePaul," she says. "Currently, the plan is to get my master's in public health in epidemiology and work in the public health field as a social epidemiologist, policy analyst or in another capacity."​

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DePaul psychology student Andres Guillu was awed the day he shadowed a psychiatrist during a medical evaluation as part of his internship with Rush University Hospital. 

“The experience was truly inspiring and eye opening," Guillu says.

Guillu worked as an intern with the Autism, Assessment, Research, Treatment and Services Center, assisting with a study that aims to improve outcomes for children with autism spectrum disorder, known as ASD, through an early intervention technique called reciprocal imitation training. This method teaches object and gesture imitation to better enhance developmental outcomes in toddlers with early signs of ASD. Guillu played a key role in data collection by preparing, distributing and coordinating study logistics with local participants. The study, known as RISE, administers the intervention to parent-child pairs over nine months with routine assessments to determine its effectiveness.

The internship helped focus Guillu's future career. 

“After this summer, one of my goals is to get a PsyD in clinical psychology. I aim to become a licensed psychotherapist and make a meaningful impact on the lives of individuals facing mental illness," he says.

Students interested in learning more about the Dean's Undergraduate Fellowship should contact the College of Science and Health's Office of Advising and Student Services​​.