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 UMD News Releases

Communication Associate: Public Relations | Lori Melton | | (218) 726-8830

July 9, 2015

Jared Strasburg | Assistant Professor / Biology Department | 218-726-7796 |
Cheryl Reitan | Associate Director of External Affairs | 218-726-8996 |

Research is a Full-Time Job for Some UMD Students

Duluth, MN – While many University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) students take a break during the summer, there are a few taking their academic career to a whole new level. They’re part of BURST, also known as the Biology Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology program.

BURST began at UMD last year and is intended to give students interested in research careers the opportunity to delve deep into the process of scientific analysis. They spend 40+ hours a week for 10 weeks focusing on investigating a chosen topic.

Jared Strasburg, an assistant professor in the Biology Department, oversees the program. “Our goal is to give students a research experience, so they know whether research is something they really want to do in the future,” explained Strasburg.

Kirk Heitpas is one of the BURST students and he said, “I’ve done other research projects, but this is the first time I’ve done it full-time, and I’m loving it.” He added, “It’s also a lot different from what I’ve done before so I’m expanding my knowledge in ecology, too.”

Seven students were selected to take part and most are in their junior year. According to Strasburg, they spend a lot of time with faculty leading up to the program to decide on a topic and plan out their time. Here are the students, their projects, and their research advisors:

  • Heitpas is working with Associate Professor Julie Etterson. He’s collecting earthworm samples in White Pine planting areas in an effort to determine whether they have an effect on tree growth.
  • Student Andrew Boser is also working with Etterson to study the effects of temperature change on an Arctic plant species that grows along the shores of Lake Superior.
  • Strasburg is working with Stephanie Grewenow. Grewenow is spending hours in the lab analyzing wolf DNA to help determine the degree of coyote hybridization in the MN wolf population.
  • Junior Katelin Goebel is studying the habitats of the endangered wood turtle in a collaborative project with the DNR and her mentor Associate Professor Ron Moen.
  • Students Murat Kalem and Rebecca Madden are spending their hours in the lab analyzing a parasite that carries the Chagas disease, which is common in Latin and South America. According to their mentor Assistant Professor Sara Zimmer, their research could lead to progress in combating this disease.
  • Alexandra Thies is partnering with Professor Matt Andrews to further research the hibernation of ground squirrels and the potential to create drug therapies that could accelerate fat burning.

UMD’s Swenson College of Science & Engineering offers the BURST program which is funded primarily by private donors and UMD alumni. According to Strasburg, that support is crucial. “The people that have donated to this program recognize the importance of this type of experience,” he said. He added that last year’s participants have already benefitted. One student told him the BURST experience is what helped him get accepted into a prestigious doctoral program.

In 2014, SCSE enrolled 3,050 undergraduate and 220 graduate students. The College is home to ten academic departments, in addition to the Large Lakes Observatory, the UMD Air Force ROTC program, and the Iron Range Engineering program, and connects students with hands-on research opportunities through its collaboration with multiple research institutions and area businesses. To learn more about SCSE visit:

The University of Minnesota Duluth’s mission is to integrate liberal education, research, creative activity, and public engagement and prepare students to thrive as lifelong learners and globally engaged citizens.

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