Student employee of the year recognized for pain research

Student employee of the year recognized for pain research

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Four years ago, as a high school junior, Dane Pratt got a job washing dishes in a laboratory at the University of Iowa.

Now a junior neurobiology major, the Oxford, Iowa, native is contributing to valuable pain research in the UI Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, and for his work he has been named the 2011 University of Iowa Student Employee of the Year.

“Dane is an excellent and model student who goes above and beyond his job requirements,” professor Kathleen Sluka wrote in Pratt’s nomination letter.

Pratt’s duties in the lab certainly have evolved. He’s still washing dishes and stocking supplies, but he also is the lead researcher on an ongoing project for which he designed and built the equipment. He has developed three distinct and usable tests of supraspinal processing of pain in mice—an escape-avoidance task, a learned-avoidance task, and an activity avoidance task. Pratt’s tests are being taught to visiting fellows, and he is the lead author of a manuscript that Sluka says will be a great asset to the pain field once published.

On top of his work in the research lab, Pratt is a dean’s list student and serves in the Air Force Reserves.

This week is National Student Employee Week. The UI Student Employee of the Year Award is sponsored by the Office of Student Financial Aid and the Vice President for Student Services. In addition to Pratt's honor, four students received certificates of distinction, while four others received certificates of appreciation.

Certificate of Distinction winners

Lindsay Douglas
Journalism and mass communication and art major from Sugar Grove, Ill.
Campus job: Web center editorial assistant for UI Health Care Marketing and Communications

Douglas helped lead an important initiative for recruiting residents to consider Iowa City for their graduate medical training. She and the client met regularly to benchmark what has been done at peer institutions, to review information from UI residents on why they chose Iowa, to brainstorm innovative design and technical solutions, and to plan and execute a strategy to bring all the elements together in a successful web campaign. She also helped edit patient education content on web pages, designed a database to alert patients and their doctors of current clinical trials, and set up a series of web publications geared for referring physicians.

Kathleen Goff
Geoscience and anthropology major from Davenport, Iowa
Campus job: Laboratory assistant for geoscience

Goff's work includes research projects and conference presentations on two different investigations. The first one on volatile elements found within melt inclusions (tiny bits of magma trapped within crystals) and the second on the chemistry and geologic history on the Marianas Islands. She also helps produce geologic thin sections slides for students, researchers, and faculty members at universities across the nation. She spearheaded the departmental food drive for two years collecting a significant amount of food to help the local community.

Christopher Merkle
Art and art history major from Newton, Iowa
Campus job: Assistant to the curator of education for the UI Museum of Art

Merkle planned and implemented an outreach program to a new audience by founding the Senior Living Communities program, which resulted in 96 visits over the course of the year. He met with directors and coordinators of a dozen residential facilities for senior citizens in the Iowa Corridor while designing the program. He trains docent volunteers and two UI student interns to provide lessons in art history or hands-on art projects. He also coordinates the record keeping of class visits and public educational programs.

Kristen Spurrier
Mechanical engineering major from Quincy, Ill.
Campus job: Research assistant for the Center for Computer Aided Design's (CCAD) Virtual Soldier Research Lab (VSR)

In her research at CCAD, Spurrier collaborated with the UI Department of Health and Human Physiology on a project modeling human strength. She quickly integrated the human strength results into Santos (the software environment), making this the only digital human model in the world that can represent dynamic human strength. She wrote the final research report, which has been submitted for scientific publication. Spurrier also serves as an ambassador for CCAD, giving tours of the facility for high school, middle school, and grade school students, and she visits high schools to give presentations on Santos, VSR and CCAD.

Certificate of Appreciation winners

Ryan Herzberger
Informatics major from Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Campus job: Desktop tech for Business Services IT Support

Herzberger was originally hired in a support role, but he quickly assumed new responsibilities. He almost single-handedly organized, built, implemented, and deployed more than 75 computers to a single department on campus. This department was critical to campus success and could not be offline for long. Herzberger was able to complete the project three months earlier than expected. He also has been able to effectively implement new security procedures to safely provide data transfer, storage, and archiving of highly sensitive data.

Emily Pacione
Art major from Chicago
Campus job: Office assistant for Emergency Assistance, Food Bank, Crisis Center of Johnson County

Pacione handles client interactions at the food bank front desk, intake and financial interviews with clients, answers the food bank and crisis intervention phone lines, and researches and updates referral information. She helps clients learn about the services they can access at other social service agencies in Johnson County. Pacione created a comprehensive employment guide for clients seeking work. Pacione comes in contact with a diverse population of clients and volunteers and demonstrates great compassion for those in crisis. She works with clients to brainstorm solutions to their problems and empowers them to fully address their needs.

Sarah Pettijohn
Industrial engineering and business major from Monument, Colo.
Campus job: Peer mentoring assistant and ambassadors student liaison for Women in Science and Engineering (WISE)

Pettijohn provides crucial support to the WISE Undergraduate Peer Mentoring Program and the WISE Ambassadors, a UISG-approved student organization. She assists in planning multiple career development workshops and seminars for more than 200 participants. She maintains the WISE database and mailing lists, assists with data compilation and reports, tracks mentoring participation records, and creates publications for the mentoring program. Pettijohn manages the details of an annual event for elementary-aged girl scouts to participate in science and engineering activities.

Dylan Thiemann
Biochemistry major from Davenport, Iowa
Campus job: Undergraduate laboratory research assistant for biochemistry

Thiemann is responsible for making progress on a research project to determine the molecular defects associated with rare forms of muscular dystrophy. He will serve as co-author of a manuscript being prepared for publication. His work on a summer research project on muscular dystrophy served as preliminary data for a grant proposal that is currently under review at the Muscular Dystrophy Association.


Eric Page, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0018


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