A taste of home: REU students give back

Writer: Victoria Swyers, victoria.swyers25@uga.edu
Contact: Ania Majewska, majewska.ania@gmail.com

Sept. 23, 2019
Athens, Ga. – This summer, undergraduates from across the United States traveled to the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia to gain invaluable research experience. Although they called Athens home for only a few short weeks, the group wanted to give back to the community while they were here.

The students, participants in the Population Biology of Infectious Diseases Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, worked together to raise funds, choose recipes, grocery shop and cook a meal for six moms and 13 children at the Athens Area Homeless Shelter.

Along with graduate student advisor Ania Majewska, they made a dinner of chicken, roasted vegetables, salad and cauliflower macaroni and cheese, with watermelon for dessert. The goal, Majewska said, was to provide a healthy meal that could be enjoyed by even picky eaters. Most of the ingredients were organic, and the meal was made from scratch.

The Population Biology of Infectious Diseases REU site is one of many hosted on the UGA campus each summer. Other REU sites focus on crop genetics and genomics; molecular and synthetic microbiology; nanotechnology and biomedicine; and Georgia coastal ecosystems, among other topics. The nine-week program is funded by the National Science Foundation.

The goal of the Population Biology of Infectious Diseases REU site is to immerse life science undergraduates in interdisciplinary infectious disease science by allowing them to conduct research with labs hosted at the Odum School of Ecology, according to the UGA REU website. Research this year ranged from examining the effect of environmental changes on infection patterns to using environmental and natural history traits to predict on-going global amphibian die-offs. Ten publications with student involvement were produced, as well as many more conference presentations.

The idea for including a service project began when last year’s cohort of REU students expressed interest in community involvement. The REU directors decided to create an optional community service component so that when students arrive in Athens from across the nation, they could be immersed in the needs of the community in which they would spend the summer, said Majewska.

The REU students discussed several potential projects before opting to make dinner for the residents of the homeless shelter.

“Personally, I felt that was very meaningful. Food is something that shows that you care,” Majewska said. “People are connected to that idea.”

The students first planned a bake sale in the Odum School of Ecology to raise funds for dinner ingredients, raising a total of $333. The group spent $100 on groceries and donated the remaining $233 directly to the shelter.

Even though the service project was optional, every student in the program participated in some way, from baking and staffing the bake sale to actually cooking the meal.

Majewska said she was proud to see the students take ownership of the project and expects community service to continue as part of the REU program.

About the photo: Students in the Population Biology of Infectious Diseases REU program prepared dinner for residents of the Athens Area Homeless Shelter. Pictured (L-R) are Simran Budhwar, a junior from the University of Virginia; Lutchie Carrasquillo Chotalal, a junior from the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo; Kareena Collins, a junior from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; Jillian Dunbar, a junior from University of Alabama; Maya Sarkar, a junior from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities; Courtney Schreiner, a junior from the University of Idaho and Taryn Waite, a freshman from Colby College. Participants not pictured are Callie Effler from Lee University, Michael Lansford from the University of Rochester, Clara Tucker from Stony Brook University and Lily Tanner from New College of Florida. Photo credit: Ania Majewska.