Fort Lewis College Partners with UAF BLaST

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By Amy Topkok

UAF Dr. Blake & Ethan Anderson

Dr. Blake with his undergraduate research experience student Ethan
Anderson are working on two microfluidic devices that have been
made by the Fort Lewis College Physics and Engineering students that will
be part of the lund on a chip device. (Photo credit: Fort Lewis College)

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Biomedical Learning and Student Training program (UAF BLaST) has partnered with several institutions outside of Alaska that have high numbers of Alaska Native and American Indian students. One of those partners is Fort Lewis College (FLC) a unique minority serving institution that provides Native American (NA) students tuition waivers no matter where they live in the United States. BLaST has supported eight faculty pilot projects to date at FLC and 58 undergraduate research experience (URE) student awards with 51 individual students to date. BLaST also supports a staff position there to help enhance biomedical research.

Below, read about two members of the FLC community associated with BLaST: David Blake, PhD, and Christine Smith, PhD. 

David Blake, PhD, is a professor of biology at FLC who was awarded a BLaST faculty pilot project grant. Blake shares his views and experiences on his project and his BLaST URE students, Ethan Anderson and Emma Leary. 

Christine Smith, PhD, is a BLaST Research, Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP) who coordinates support towards enhancing biomedical research at their campus. Smith shares her experience working towards increasing student awareness and involvement in research across the FLC campus.


Continuing Research and Enhancing Student Experiences in the Blake lab

Q: Can you describe your research projects at Fort Lewis?

Electron Microscope Image of Porous Silicon

A scanning electron microscope image of porous silicon
with a human microvascular endothelial cell attached
to it. (Photo credit: Fort Lewis College)

A: The research projects in my lab are diverse and all fit under the One Health idea, which is to examine and enhance the health of humans, the health of animals and the health of the environment. My current BLaST-funded project, “The Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Drug Candidates to Treat Leishmaniasis,” investigates a common parasitic infection found in rural economically disadvantaged communities and is in collaboration with fellow professor Dr. Kenny Miller of chemistry. A second project in my lab focuses on lung structure to develop a microfluidic device that uses a novel material, porous silicon, to generate a three-dimensional structure to mimic human lung physiology. This project is in collaboration with Dr. Jeff Jessing, who is an associate professor at FLC in the Physics and Engineering Department and a current BLaST FPP awardee.


Q: What has inspired you to mentor students in research?

A: During my career at Fort Lewis College, I have had the opportunity to mentor more than 90 undergraduate students in research projects. Six undergraduate research scholars in my lab have been part of BLaST since 2019. Many of my students have been successful in their careers after FLC and continued onto medical or graduate school in biomedical sciences, biomedical engineering programs or post-baccalaureate programs. The individual one-on-one mentoring provided for FLC students during their academic careers is special and enhances their understanding of Biology and how biomedical research is performed. 

My students and I are excited about science and finding out new things about biological processes. My lab has published consistently over the last 12 years with numerous undergraduate co-authors. I have also been successful in securing extramural funding, such as the NIH SC3 SCORE grant and as a Co-PI an NSF PREM grant, which focuses on minority students and research in functional nanomaterials.

UAF BLaST URE Student Emma Leary
BLaST URE student Emma Leary, 2022.
Photo credit: Emma Leary


Q: What do your students say about their research, processes, being able to be in charge of their own research project, or any progress they have made so far?

A: Both BLaST UREs, Emma Leary and Ethan Anderson, are presenting their research at the Annual Society of Toxicology meeting in March 2022 in San Diego. This will be their first national conference and I hope they have a great time meeting new scientists and other undergraduates from different institutions.

Here is what Emma Leary shared of her URE experiences so far: 

“I enjoy Fort Lewis College for many reasons. It is inclusive to many different communities. The college works on acknowledging mistakes from the past to grow and to help not only underrepresented communities but also people from many different walks of life. Along with this, and the fact that Fort Lewis College is surrounded by breathtaking mountain scenery, the college offers hands-on opportunities to pursue a research-fueled undergraduate experience where you can work with just about anything. I have been working with Dr. David Blake of the biology department to test possible compounds with hopes to combat the effects of Leishmaniasis, a disease that affects areas with high poverty and deforestation rates and is one of the most ignored tropical diseases. Through working with this parasite, I have been given a better understanding of research and how it can help large and neglected populations, along with how research at Fort Lewis College can help to be inclusive to those on campus that wish to pursue research.”


Christine Smith, PhD, BLaST RAMP at Fort Lewis College

BLaST also has seen positive collaboration with the high numbers of BLaST URE projects at Fort Lewis College, that the program created a BLaST Research, Advising and Mentoring Professional (RAMP) position there to help coordinate the support towards enhancing biomedical research at their campus. Christine Smith, the BLaST RAMP, started in the fall of 2021. She shared the following about herself and her desire and drive to help students succeed in college:

UAF BLaST RAMP Dr. Christine Smith
BLaST RAMP Christine Smith, 2021.
Photo credit: Christine Smith

“I was born in Utah to two chemistry professor parents. I earned my B.S. in chemistry from Indiana University and my Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale University. I spent most of my career teaching general chemistry and biochemistry. Despite facing some bumps along my career path, I now have what I think is the best job ever, where I get to work closely with students and help improve the world through science, education, and good health. Growing up in Utah, I developed a love for the Rocky Mountains. I feel incredibly fortunate to be living in beautiful Durango and having the chance to work at FLC where truly amazing things are happening every day.”


“In my current role as a BLaST RAMP, I’ve been working towards increasing student awareness and involvement in research across the FLC campus. In the fall of 2021, I visited over 30 first-year classes for incoming students about the many research projects being conducted at FLC. In addition, I started an FLC Undergraduate Research Instagram page—(follow her HERE).” 

Smith also created an FLC Undergraduate Research Canvas site, a university-hosted secured learning online platform, so that FLC students, faculty and staff can share their research with each other. Smith also teaches courses at FLC. Last term, she taught an Introduction to Human Disease course and this spring is teaching an Introduction to Molecular and Cellular Biology lab. In addition to her teaching, she facilitates an 8-week Responsible Conduct of Research series of classes offered to the many BLaST UREs and other students that may need this training. 

“I love that my job is about inspiring students to find mentors, engage deeply, and communicate their findings with others. 



The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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