INA, Ill. (May 7, 2018) – Shayne Kempfer is one in ten. This summer, Kempfer will join nine other community college students at an elite internship program through the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Parkland College called PRECS (Phenotypic Plasticity Research Experience for Community College Students).
Kayla Kulinski was also one of ten. The Mt. Vernon native attended the same internship program during the summer of 2017. Together with Kempfer, they make RLC students two-for-two on securing positions in the prestigious program.
During the internship, Kempfer will assist with research for 10 weeks under the supervision of Dr. Alison Bell, Associate Professor at the University of Illinois. Specifically, they will be researching phenotypic plasticity, the phenomenon of a single genotype producing multiple phenotypes depending on environment.
Kempfer, a biological sciences major, said she first heard about the opportunity from Emily Jones, RLC Biological Sciences Associate Professor. Kempfer thought the internship would be the perfect chance to get one step closer to her dream career in fisheries biology.
“Emily is my biology teacher this semester and, at the beginning of class, she told us that she gets internship opportunities sent to her every now and then, and this happened to be one of them,” said Kempfer. “I love this kind of learning. Now that I have an idea of what I want to do, it’s easier to find things that can help me work toward that goal. I’m really very grateful to be accepted into this program.”
Kulinski explained that all ten students accepted into the internship research phenotypic plasticity in different ways. Last year, she was part of a group looking at the parenting behavior of a specific type of fish.
“Everyone had a different mentor and we each did our own thing. It was mostly research-based for me. I worked every day, from 8 to 5, to monitor a computer program looking at fish exposed to predation,” said Kulinski. “I worked under a mentor with other professionals, most were post-Ph. D students, from all over the country.”
It was partially Kulinski’s advice that encouraged Kempfer to apply. That advice and extra support from Jones led the U.S. Navy veteran to take the leap. Originally from Hoyleton and now a resident of Sparta, Kempfer said the whole process – from signing up for that fateful biology class to receiving her acceptance letter earlier this spring – has been “a real blessing.”
“I spoke to Kayla and she recommended doing it,” said Kempfer. “I am also extremely appreciative to Emily for helping me. This whole experience has been phenomenal and a real blessing. It still sounds too awesome to be true. When I talked to Kayla, and she says it’s a really, really good experience.”
She continued, “It’s unreal. I was in the Navy for eight years and I came back to school expecting to struggle because I am too old or too behind, but then this opportunity arose. When I was applying, I thought they would think I’m too old or behind on my education to even be considered. It’s amazing that it’s actually happened and I am really excited.”
During the internship, students complete a sort of “boot camp” at Parkland College in Champaign to learn about laboratory methods and research ethics. The interns will then go to their specific laboratories at the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. There with Dr. Bell, Kempfer will research the phenotypic plasticity of the three-spined stickleback fish.
“I’ve spoken to Dr. Alison Bell, the leader of the lab I’ll be working in. We’re doing a study on fish – the three-spined stickleback fish – and I’ll be the only intern in Dr. Bell’s lab doing this research,” said Kempfer. “It’s one reason I applied, because I want to go into fisheries biology. This is the kind of work I want to do.”
Upon completion of the internship, Kempfer will present the research at an undergraduate symposium at the University of Illinois, the same one Kulinski presented at last year. Kempfer said she plans to transfer to Southern Illinois University Carbondale after her graduation from RLC in May of 2019 to continue her biology studies.
Jones said she expects big things from Kempfer in the future, just as she does for Kulinski.
“Shayne is driven, dedicated, intelligent, and personable, all of those necessary qualities you need to not only be successful, but to truly find your passion and go for it,” said Jones. “It is thrilling as a professor to meet students like Shayne and Kayla, and help them on their academic journeys. I cannot wait to see what they accomplish in their academic careers.”
Carrie Ragan, RLC Professor of Biology and Anatomy & Physiology, said the internship can be “life-changing,” citing Kulinski who was offered an assistantship with a stipend and tuition waiver after her internship ended last year.
“This is the second year that one of our biology students has been selected for this very competitive internship. It can be a life-changing experience for a student,” said Ragan.
Kulinski said she continues to do research at Eastern Illinois University, where she is currently a biological sciences major. She plans to continue her education and earn a Ph. D.
“The internship was really helpful in a lot of ways. It helped me realize that I do like this kind of work. Before last summer, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Now I know I want to get my Ph. D in biology and do research,” said Kulinski. “It was also helpful to meet a lot of other students with the same interests. Between meetings and guest speakers, we’re able to find a direction to what we want to do. I’ve done some research here and there at Eastern, and I’m planning to do more and get into another program soon.”
For more information about RLC’s Biological Sciences program, call 618-437-5321, Ext. 1288 or visit www.rlc.edu/math-science-education. To learn more about the PRECS internship, visit https://precs.igb.illinois.edu.