Prestigious Research Fellowship and Faculty Mentorship Support Ambitious Student Projects
Five Yeshiva University undergraduates have been making an impact at the frontiers of science and medicine this summer as Henry Kressel Research Scholars.
The scholarship—established in 2008 by Dr. Henry Kressel, former chairman of the YU Board of Trustees—offers students the unique opportunity to craft a yearlong intensive research project under the direct supervision of University faculty. The honor is highly selective: candidates are nominated by individual professors who believe their students are on to something truly remarkable and carefully weighed by a faculty committee before being chosen.
This year’s Kressel Scholars are Yosef Frenkel, of Riverdale, New York; Daniel Shlian, of Highland Park, New Jersey; Russell Spiewak of East Brunswick, NJ; Sheldon Lerman of Woodmere, NY; and Sima (Jennifer) Grossman, of Brooklyn, NY.
Yosef Frenkel, a biology major with a minor in speech and drama, is studying possible causes of infertility modeled in fruit flies under the guidance of Dr. Josefa Steinhauer, assistant professor of biology at Yeshiva College. “The research that our lab is doing with infertility has the potential to be very useful to the scientific community and this fellowship provides a platform to share this research with the greater YU community as well as provide some necessary funding,” said Frenkel. “Dr. Steinhauer has been a fantastic mentor. She is always around to answer any questions I may have and is very good at going over any protocol that I will need for the experiment.”
He was particularly excited to attend the Genetics Society of America’s Drosophila Research Conference in Chicago this year: “I got to interact with many researchers from around the world who also work with Drosophila (fruit flies) as well as present a poster on my research,” said Frenkel, who hopes to pursue medical school after graduation.
Daniel Shlian, a chemistry and Judaic studies major, is investigating alternative fuel sources with Dr. Jianfeng Jiang, associate professor of chemistry. “Our group has already synthesized a nickel-based compound, which is much less expensive than current catalysts, and used it to construct a prototype of a fuel cell,” said Shlian. “We’re now focusing on optimizing the design of the fuel cell for clean, affordable and efficient energy. What’s been most exciting in the research has been seeing my name on a paper published in a major chemistry journal.”
But Shlian’s entry into the world’s scientific community doesn’t stop there: with guidance from Jiang, he was also accepted to the Kupcinet-Getz International Science School at the Weizmann Institute of Science to conduct additional research this summer, and he’ll be writing his honors thesis with Jiang in hopes of pursuing a doctoral program in the field. “At YU, I have had the unique opportunity to pursue courses of study in two areas about which I feel passionate—Judaic studies and chemistry—and participate in advancing in those fields outside the classroom,” said Shlian, who will also serve as editor of Kol Hamevaser, YU’s Jewish thought magazine, this year.
Russell Spiewak, a mathematics and physics major, is getting hands-on programming experience and developing expertise in computer systems and connections in his research on current distribution in electrical power grids with Dr. Sergey Buldyrev, professor of physics. Their work seeks to simulate a cascade of failures—basically, how a terror attack or natural disaster could infiltrate and destroy the U.S. power grid and the many networks dependent on it—through delicate computational equations.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the research so far is the feeling that I am actually driving and shaping its direction,” said Spiewak. “In a standard lab class, you’re given a set of instructions to follow and basically complete the lab when the instructions are finished. Here, I have been involved in the evolution of this project. Finding results from a research project is exciting in its own right, but when the project direction stems from my ideas, that takes the excitement to a whole new level.”
Ultimately, Spiewak hopes to earn his doctorate in physics and is considering continuing his YU experience by pursuing semicha studies at its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. “I have taken interesting classes with knowledgeable professors here, had the opportunity to listen to fascinating guest lectures, partaken in fun extracurricular activities, met new friends, and had a good time while enhancing and furthering my education,” said Spiewak.
Biology major Sheldon Lerman applied for the Kressel Scholarship to support an ambitious cancer research project: under the guidance of Dr. Sumanta Goswami, associate professor of biology, he is investigating whether or not fine needle aspiration of cancer cells can provide an accurate representation of chemotherapy sensitivity or resistance features in a given tumor. “As an individual, I am aware that my particular research may or may not save lives,” he said. “But I hope to make a difference in the world of cancer research and I am confident that as a group of science researchers, we can share insights, discoveries, and data to help further and advance our abilities to fight cancer. Being named a Kressel Research Scholar is a vote of support by a prestigious group of academic advisers and administrators that believe that I could make a difference. This vote of confidence means the world to me.”
For Lerman, his undergraduate career at YU has been all about connecting the dots—both in his research and beyond. “By identifying the interconnections between class, clinic and research, I have developed a greater appreciation of each,” said Lerman. “At YU, I have had the unique opportunity to pursue an education that fosters opportunities to continue to grow as individuals in all aspects. Besides my biology major, I have absorbed the core concepts of political science to better understand the role of the individual in being a ‘light of the nations’, taken to heart the importance of reading and writing to learn about the people around me and the person within me, and immersed myself in the words of our past and present sages to strengthen my faith and connection to the Jewish tradition.”
Sima (Jennifer) Grossman, a biology major with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology at Stern College for Women, chose to apply for the Kressel Fellowship because it gave her the opportunity to work on an intense, long-term research project that challenged her to take the knowledge she gained in the classroom and apply it to the real world. Grossman is conducting research with Dr. Marina Holz, the Doris and Dr. Ira Kukin Chair in Biology and professor of biology, who has made groundbreaking progress in understanding the pathways by which hormone receptors influence breast cancer development.
“I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Marina Holz both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Grossman. “Dr. Holz is a real expert in her field, and she is always available to help me with questions pertaining to research or other aspects of my education. Professors like her and Dr. Harvey Babich, who has helped me enormously during my time at Stern, go above and beyond to help their students pursue careers in their chosen fields.”
She added, “I believe that exposure to and understanding of the methods and application of biomedical research is necessary in order to practice medicine effectively, which is why I am so grateful for this opportunity to be at the forefront of cutting-edge breast cancer research.”
Grossman, who plans to attend medical school, has also found that her research is influenced by the time she spent as co-editor of Derech Hateva, a student publication that focuses on the intersection of science and Jewish ethics. “Being involved in Derech Hateva has forced me to think about how the scientific advances that are being made in research institutions today pertain to Jewish law and Torah hashkafa [life outlook].”