Students win top awards for research

  Wednesday, February 18, 2015 2:00 AM

Pittsburg, KS

Students win top awards for research

Two Pittsburg State University undergraduate students have won top awards for their research.

Blaze Heckert, a senior in biology from Pittsburg, Kan., and Kalee Woody, a senior in biology from Bronaugh, Mo., were singled out for recognition with the Best Poster Award at the annual Kansas Institutional Development Award Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE) symposium in January in Topeka. The event showcases the work of students from 10 campuses in Kansas and northern Oklahoma.

Research award winnersFaculty advisers said the PSU students’ success won’t go unnoticed as they pursue their academic careers.

“Having awards such as these on their resumes helps undergraduate students immensely,” said Santimukul Santra, assistant professor in PSU’s Department of Chemistry and supervisor of the Nano-Bio-Tech Laboratory for targeted cancer therapy and infectious diseases where the students work. “It reflects their outstanding knowledge and expertise in research and brings them to the first line when competing with other top tier schools in academia. This is particularly very important for undergraduates.”

Heckert, who has already accepted early admission to the UMKC dental school, said the recognition confirmed for him that PSU students could compete with students from the big research universities in the state.

“I was really surprised when students and faculty from KU Med showed interest in my work,” Heckert said.

The students’ research can seem a little intimidating. Heckert, for example, presented a poster on his research on “Inhibitor-induced combination therapy of K-RAS driven NSCLC.” Woody’s poster presentation was on “PSMA-receptor targeting magnetic nanoprobes: Novel nanotheranostics for the treatment of prostate carcinomas.”

In simpler terms, the students were looking into treatments for lung and prostate cancer.

What, if any role this research may play in the treatment or cure of cancer is undetermined, but the Heckert and Woody both agree that the hands-on research opportunities they’ve received at PSU have inspired them in ways they didn’t expect.

“Being from a rural area, I was unaware of the scope of the scientific community until I came to college,” Woody said. “The only scientists I had known growing up were my family doctor and high school science teacher. Research at PSU exposed me to scientific work in academia as well as industry and it has allowed me to network with graduate schools and professionals in my field of interest. Research doesn't have to be done at a well-known university to make an impact. The possibilities are endless.”

Santra pointed out that this isn’t the first time that Heckert and Woody have received recognition for their research as undergraduates. Heckert is a recipient of the K-INBRE Star-Trainee Award, a highly competitive award that carries with it a scholarship of $8,000. He also earned a K-INBRE Semester Scholar Award, a PSU Colloquium Best Poster Award and a PSU Chemistry Best Undergraduate Research Award. Woody has received a K-INBRE Semester Scholar Award, a PSU Colloquium Best Oral Presentation Award and a PSU Colloquium Best Poster Award.

K-INBRE is a multi-disciplinary network designed to inspire undergraduates to pursue careers in biomedical research, enhance research capacity through faculty development and retention and expand the biomedical research infrastructure connecting several academic institutions. The program was made possible by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on Nano-Bio-Tech lab at Pittsburg State University, visit Santra’s home page,



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