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Students Fare Well At Pfizer
August 31, 2006

Two Calvin students recently made an impressive showing at the annual Pfizer, Inc. poster session for summer interns.

Senior Nathan Tonlaar, a biology student from Tamale, Ghana, and Kelly Urness, a newly graduated chemistry major from Salem, Wis., were two of the five winners for best poster presentation in the competition, which featured the work of all 34 Pfizer summer interns who worked in the pharmaceutical company’s St. Louis headquarters this summer.

Both Tonlaar and Urness (now a graduate student at North Carolina State University in organic chemistry) won for posters representing their work in cardiovascular research.

“If you look at the fact that there were 34 students there, and out of that 34, there were five awards given, and two of those were given to Calvin students, statistically that’s an impressive performance for our students, based on the fact that they were competing with students from all over the country,” says biology professor John Ubels, the coordinator of Calvin’s science internships.

The poster session, a requirement of the 10-week Pfizer internship, is not as informal as it sounds, Ubels adds. Indeed it is the primary means of communication at large scientific meetings.

“I like to compare it to a big science fair,” he says. “Traditionally the form at scientific meetings was a 10-minute talk with five minutes for questions. As meeting attendance grew it became difficult to schedule all speakers so in the mid-1970s, presenters began to use posters. They had a slow start but soon became well accepted to the point that today at large conferences the majority of presentations are in poster sessions rather than talks.”

Pfizer, Inc. is one of 13 sites where Calvin has placed 22 biology interns in summer 2006. This total reflects the growth of the biology internship program (one part of a much larger science division internship program) which placed just five students as recently as 2002.

The faculty of both the biology department and the science division, Ubels says, are getting used to hearing praise about Calvin interns.

“We are always very pleased when our students do well in internships," he says, "and we celebrate it, but it’s getting to a point where we’re not that surprised because our students represent the college very well and they always seems to be very well prepared.”

Jacob Bode, a 2001 graduate of Calvin’s very first biotechnology class, a former intern of the Van Andel Research Institute and currently a scientist at Pfizer, agrees with Ubels.

“The Calvin student interns came prepared and ready to work from day one,” Bode says. “They were focused and delivered relevant, timely data. It is wonderful to see current Calvin students being well prepared and ready to enter the scientific community.”

~written by communications and marketing staff writer Myrna Anderson