College Graduate with NCI Internship Gains Experience, Carries Chemistry into Medicine

By Samuel Lopez, Staff Writer; photo by Joseph Meyer, Staff Photographer; portrait courtesy of Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer Marshall pictured alonside teammate Evan Schauer

Jennifer Marshall (right) with teammate Evan Schauer (left) after winning the Scientific Library’s 2015 Science Jeopardy Tournament.

For Jennifer Marshall, the skills learned through an internship at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at Frederick have prepared her for the next step of her life—medical school.

Marshall, who will be attending the West Virginia University School of Medicine in the fall, spent three summers in NCI at Frederick’s Summer Internship Program expanding her love and passion for science and the medical field. She initially heard about the program and applied to join during her first year at High Point University. Marshall knew she had made a good decision after a former coach connected her with the program’s advisor, James Cherry, Ph.D., who helped her integrate.

The Summer Internship Program offers undergraduate students an opportunity during the summer months to get full-time, hands-on experience in a laboratory environment. Cherry and his peers—as they did with Marshall—meet with accepted students to discuss their interests and goals before assigning each to an experienced scientist, who provides mentorship, assistance in conducting research, and guidance through scientific tasks.

Participants are immersed in an intramural research community, an experience that provides further opportunities to publish their own research, present at conferences, and collaborate with scientists from multiple fields.

In 2014, Marshall spent her first summer in that community working alongside her mentor, Nicole Shrader, research associate III, in the Laboratory of Molecular Technology. There, she processed samples for diagnostic assays that are involved in clinical studies on potential patient-specific cancer treatments.

She returned to the program in 2015 and 2016, spending both summers in the Chemical Biology Laboratory (CBL) to gain more experience in chemistry, her field of study. The transfer to a new department also came with a new mentor, Joseph Barchi, Ph.D., senior scientist and head of the Glycoconjugate and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Section, CBL, Center for Cancer Research, who guided Marshall’s efforts to synthesize a linker for novel nanoparticle anticancer vaccine agents.

In addition to giving her the chance to conduct lab work, Marshall believes the program equipped her to become a scientist in her own right.

“It enabled me to become extremely independent while working on research projects in school at High Point,” she said. “My summer experiences with group meetings may have been rough at the time, but they taught me how to effectively communicate my research. This helped me successfully present research at multiple venues throughout college.”

Those experiences were responsible for boosting her confidence and preparing her for further scientific work. Although she is a recent college graduate, she already has two articles pending for publication.

The program also gave her opportunities to have fun with her peers. During her first summer with the CBL, along with her teammate, she participated in and won the Scientific Library’s Science Jeopardy Tournament. The annual event allows teams of high school and undergraduate interns to compete and show off their scientific knowledge. On a separate occasion, she helped Barchi put on a chemical “magic show” for visiting children during NCI at Frederick’s annual Take Your Child to Work Day.

Perhaps most of all, Marshall appreciates the ways her mentors have influenced her life. Both she and Barchi are athletes and avid soccer fans, and their discussions about sports medicine and orthopedics helped to solidify Marshall’s interest in medicine. She further credits Shrader, Barchi, and Cherry with stimulating her scientific work and personal growth.

“My mentors were amazing,” she said. “They were all so intelligent, and the way they spoke about their research inspired me to become more knowledgeable so that I could understand science better.”

Those kinds of bonds can be typical in the program, with interns and mentors viewing the NCI at Frederick as a tightly knit community. Participating is like “becoming part of a family that will support, push, and care about you,” said Cherry, who is also a scientific program director in NCI at Frederick’s Office of Scientific Operations.

After graduation, Marshall nearly returned to that family when she was offered a post-bac position in NCI at Frederick’s Cancer Technology Research Program. However, when she was simultaneously accepted to medical school, she knew she had the chance to pursue her passion. Yet she remains immensely appreciative of the NCI at Frederick community, and she believes her experience in the Summer Internship Program both helped her gain admittance to medical school and readied her for her future pursuits.

“The program has been extremely valuable,” she said. “The skills I learned and the relationships I made opened the door for me to pursue other opportunities, and it has been without a doubt the most important factor in my decision to pursue medical school. I could not be more grateful for all of the amazing mentors I have had.”

For their part, her mentors at NCI at Frederick wish her the best.

“She is going to do well,” said Cherry. “It is safe to say that Jenny has left her imprint on both Dr. Barchi and I, and we are very proud of her. She will always be part of our NCI family.”