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Summer 2002

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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

Total involvement

Jonathan LaBonte

Kristen Harring

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Jonathan LaBonte's graduation in May culminated a four-year academic career in which coursework in chemical engineering was as important to him as involvement in extra-curricular activities. And not just any out-of-class experiences.

As a sophomore, the Auburn, Maine, student joined the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity, where he focused on community service. LaBonte volunteered with two Old Town, Maine, student groups, the high school ACES Awareness, Change, Education and Solutions and the middle school Junior ACES, both associated with the community-building River Coalition. He not only joined the young teens in some of their activities, but he encouraged other UMaine students to do the same.

"He did a great job motivating his peers and serving as a role model," says Shawn Yardley, River Coalition director of programs. "To our students, Jon represented the University. He gave them opportunities to see college students having fun without alcohol and drugs. The more you expose young people to the real versus the stereotype, the better."

LaBonte is a quiet leader, absolutely determined to make a difference. In his junior year, LaBonte assumed the first of his student leadership roles as president of the Interfraternity Council on campus. As a senior, he was president of his fraternity, vice president of the Off-Campus Board, a student senator, and a member of both the President's Student Life Cabinet and the Student Alcohol Advisory Board.

LaBonte also points to one of his most satisfying academic activities, an educational co-op experience with a specialty chemical supplier to the pulp and paper industry, as an opportunity for honing "people skills."

His semester and summer of co-op experience helped him to land his first full-time job as a field engineer and loss prevention consultant. It was one of several employment offers he had early in his senior year.

Studying clam cells

Scientists have known for years that there is a high incidence of gonadal tumors in Down East softshell clams, but the cause has been hard to pin down. For her University of Maine undergraduate degree in biochemistry, Kristen Harring of Beverly, Mass., has been looking for a genetic explanation.

The tumors are not thought to be fatal to the clams or harmful to humans; scientists are just starting to look closely at whether the tumors affect clam reproduction.

Possible causes of the tumors have focused on herbicides, but only indirect evidence has been found. "We haven't been able to induce tumors specifically, but we've been able to induce an undifferentiated gonad, which means that you can't tell if it's male or female," she says.

One of the characteristics of the tumors is that they arise from very early cells. Harring now thinks it may be these undifferentiated gonads that are predestined for tumors.

Harring's research has focused on proteins that might be involved in tumor development. Previous student researchers, Linda Rhodes and Melissa Kelley, found higher concentrations of E3 in gonads and tumors of dioxin-exposed clams. E3 proteins are part of a normal cell's cleanup system. One of the proteins that the E3 protein may target is a tumor suppressor.

In her research, Harring works closely with Rondi Butler, a post-doctoral scientist in the laboratory of Rebecca Van Beneden, a professor in UMaine's School of Marine Sciences.

Harring just completed her bachelor's degree and will begin her master's at UMaine in 2003.


UMaine Today Magazine
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