Master’s Students Mentor Teens at DiGregorio Summer Forensic Science Program

By schwartzsa | July 8, 2011

Six students in Arcadia’s Forensic Science graduate program are spending the summer helping Philadelphia-area high school students develop new thinking and scientific skills as part of the G. John Digregorio Summer Science Program, a full-time eight-week forensic science research course.

Sponsored by the Fredric Rieders Family Renaissance Foundation and NMS Labs, in Willow Grove, Pa., the program offers qualifying high school students an orientation in laboratory safety and practice, laboratory skills, and analytical chemistry. Though the program has started just recently, students are comfortable with their summer mentors and display enthusiasm for the topics they have explored.

Kayla Hill of Bodine High School and Karen Port of Central High School are working with Arcadia University master’s student Justine Titko on a project titled “Method Validation for the Extraction of Novel Antiepileptic Drugs from Oral Fluid, Plasma, and Urine Using Direct Solid Phase Micro-extraction (SPME) and Gas Chromatography.”

“We’ve been looking at anti-epileptic medicines called Levetiracetam and Gabapentin,” says Hill. “They’re two medications that mimic a protein in the brain called GABA, but we’re not exactly sure how the medication works—it’s unknown. So we’re going to be spiking it in bodily fluids and using solid-phase microextraction.” Getting a nod of approval from Titko on her pronunciation, she grins.

While students learn and perform basic laboratory techniques, such as preparing samples and performing chemical analysis using state-of-the-art equipment, they also gain perspective in a real workplace environment and explore some of the opportunities in scientific careers. Port has spent a significant amount of her spare time gaining as much experience in the medical field as possible, volunteering at the ASPCA assisting veterinary attendants as they prepare for surgery. “I’ve always been interested in science, so this summer I am getting more experience in the laboratory and research setting,” says Port. “It’s really awesome.”

In addition to instruction, they’re also assigned hands-on research projects conducted at the Forensics Mentors Institute. As they explore the field, they are also encouraged to express their ideas as well as learn from the opinions of their peers.

Titko is happy to gain experience as an instructor and mentor. “ In the future want to do stuff exactly like this,” she says. “Though I am more interested in the biological aspects of forensics, that’s just the benefit of the program. We get training in chemistry, biology and toxicology so we can go anywhere and get a job anywhere. We’re not just limited to one portion of the field.”

Amanda Arntson, Branden Brunner, Theresa Scott, Emmi Slivka, and Martha Wood are also participating mentors of the 2011 program.

Read more about the Forensics Mentors Institute.