Kannapolis Scholars Arrive for Summer at N.C. Research Campus

While many people were packing in food and family time during the holiday weekend, six students from universities across North Carolina were busy unpacking at their new home for the summer of 2010: the N.C. Research Campus.

Representing a wide range of state universities and educational disciplines, the students are the first crop of “Kannapolis Scholars” to arrive at the Research Campus. The group will spend 10 weeks this summer working with renowned researchers in state-of-the-art labs. Each student is paired with mentors from at least two of the eight universities represented at the Research Campus, including one of 13 mentors based there.

Christine Bradish, a Kannapolis Scholar, works with Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, Plants for Human Health Institute, at the N.C. Research Campus to research phytochemical variation in raspberries.

N.C. State University graduate student in horticultural science, Christine Bradish, from Raleigh, considers it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “It was truly an honor to be selected as a Kannapolis Scholar,” said Bradish, who is researching phytochemical variation in North Carolina-grown raspberries. “I am hoping that my research can one day benefit North Carolina’s economy by creating revenue through a growing raspberry industry.”

Bradish is mentored by Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, professor and postharvest physiologist, who is part of N.C. State’s Plants for Human Health Institute in Kannapolis; Dr. Wei Jia, professor and co-director of the UNC Greensboro Center for Research Excellence in Bioactive Food Components; and Dr. Gina Fernandez, associate professor and Extension specialist, who leads N.C. State’s raspberry and blackberry breeding program.

The Kannapolis Scholars program is a first-of-its-kind transdisciplinary training program that brings postgraduate students from the eight partnering universities to the Research Campus to study food science, nutrition and human health. Partnering universities include Appalachian State University, Duke University, N.C. A&T State University, N.C. Central University, N.C. State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte and UNC Greensboro.

The Kannapolis campus is a perfect fit because of the diverse faculty and disciplines that come together at one site, according to Dr. Jack Odle, director of the Kannapolis Scholars program.

“We have the goal of training the Scholars to become interactive scientists, so they will not only study deeply in their chosen discipline, but they also will be expected to interact significantly with colleagues in allied disciplines,” said Odle, a William Neal Reynolds professor of nutritional biochemistry at N.C. State University. “This training goal aligns precisely with the mission of the N.C. Research Campus and this is unique.”

Kannapolis Scholars take part in transdisciplinary research at the N.C. Research Campus, which encourages collaboration with colleagues in other scientific fields.

Kannapolis Scholars will pursue postgraduate degrees in disciplines including nutrition, molecular and cell biology, bioinformatics and genomics, developmental psychology, and energy and environmental systems.

N.C. State University directs the program, which is supported by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It will bring at least 20 students to the Research Campus during the next four years.

In addition to Bradish, the other Kannapolis Scholars are Daniel Cooper, UNC-Chapel Hill, from La Jolla, Calif.; Krista Kennerly, Appalachian State University, from Asheville; Kyle Suttlemyre, UNC Charlotte, from Winston-Salem; Christa Watson, N.C. A&T State University, from Greensboro; and Kelly Will, UNC-Chapel Hill, from Arlington, Va.

“We are excited to welcome the Scholars and the entire community is geared up with anticipation as well,” said Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, who also serves as a mentor. “They will have a great reception and a second home here in Kannapolis.”

Scholars were selected by a committee comprised of faculty from each of the eight member universities of the N.C. Research Campus. Candidates were chosen based on their grade point average, test scores and letters of recommendation. Scholars also had to develop a proposal that outlined the transdisciplinary nature of the research they wished to conduct.

“We also considered issues of balance,” said Odle. “We want a good mix of students from various universities and disciplines. It’s important that the diversity of the students match the diversity of the research programs present in Kannapolis.”

After this summer, the students will complete two academic semesters at their respective home campuses before returning for another 10-week summer stint at the Research Campus in 2011. Kannapolis Scholars receive roughly $38,000 over the 15-month period for tuition, housing and other expenses.

“This is the best training a scientist of the future can possibly obtain,” said Lila. “These Scholars will be hot commodities in the world of industry and academia because they are able to take approaches to problem solving that are truly unprecedented.”