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Getting students into the lab

lsampTwo first-year students, Fadli Mohamed and Makia Jama, spent four weeks in May testing for bacteria in the women’s locker room at Augsburg. They learned a great deal about microbiology from biology professor Jennifer Bankers-Fulbright and whetted their appetite for more research. This project was funded through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP). On Thursday, July 9, the steering committee of the North Star Alliance, which administers the LSAMP program in Minnesota, will meet at Augsburg College.

Bankers-Fulbright has read studies showing an increase in the occurrence of MRSA, a bacteria commonly known as a “staph infection.” It’s a huge problem in hospitals as well as public places, like gyms and workout areas, but there is no documentation about how great a risk it really poses. In Augsburg’s fitness center, there are signs warning about wiping equipment clean to avoid MRSA.

When Bankers-Fulbright learned about short-term research opportunities in May for science students, she proposed a project to Mohamed and Jama, to test if the type of MRSA found outside of hospitals exists in Augsburg’s fitness center and if it can be cultured.

Both students had indicated interest in either biology or clinical work, and in order to begin, they had to learn all about MRSA, antibiotic resistance, how bacteria is transmitted, and about the techniques for collecting it.

They focused on the women’s locker room, since almost all women begin and end their workouts there, and collected 40 sterile samples from locations in the locker room and cultivated them in petri dishes.

The samples did cultivate colonies of possible MRSA, and the results varied depending on the petri dish growing medium and whether the bacteria was or was not resistant to antibiotics. They concluded that the women’s locker room does not pose a great risk for acquiring MRSA, although the risk might be greater if the women were playing close contact sports rather than working out individually.

LSAMP is a National Science Foundation program that encourages bachelor’s degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) among minority students. Augsburg is part of the North Star Alliance.

During the 2008-09 academic year, Augsburg site coordinator Rebekah Dupont worked with 14 North Star Scholars, providing mathematics tutoring and connecting students with funding opportunities. Five students carried out research during May.

The LSAMP North Star STEM Steering Committee will meet this week at Augsburg, including members of the alliance institutions. Their agenda includes a brief presentation on Augsburg’s new Center for Science, Business, and Religion (CSBR).

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