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UMaine Today Magazine

Student Focus

An Essential Ingredient: Mentoring

Kelly Guthrie
Kelly Guthrie

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Kelly Guthrie graduated from high school knowing she wanted to study science at the University of Maine. She just didn't know which science.

That summer before she enrolled, she took a part-time job in the research laboratory of food scientist Rod Bushway. It's now five years later, and she's never left.

"I remember how intimidating it was walking into the lab, getting thrown into research unlike anything I'd ever done in high school," says Guthrie, now a grad student working toward a Ph.D. in food and nutrition sciences. "It also was exciting to use sophisticated equipment people my age didn't get a chance to see, let alone work with."

In the lab throughout her undergraduate years, working alongside Bushway and research chemist Brian Perkins, Guthrie was involved in the development of methodology to analyze and detect pesticides, vitamins and natural toxins in food, water and soil.

Her first project involved quantifying capsaicinoids (the "hot" compounds in hot peppers) in oleoresins (concentrated extracts from hot pepper fruit) using High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), and correlating those values with others obtained by analysis with Enzyme Immunoassay (EIA). She cooperated in research analyzing pesticides on blueberries and in groundwater. In a particularly large project, Guthrie helped in an analysis of the levels of naturally occurring toxins in potato varieties.

"I was pleased to find food science fit so well with what I wanted to do. It involves a lot of chemistry, some biology a good mix of sciences," she says.

Guthrie is not the first high school student to find her way into basic scientific research via the research laboratories in the UMaine Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, the only university program in Maine that offers both bachelor's and graduate education in food science, human nutrition and dietetics. Both Bushway and Perkins have worked with secondary school students through the years on projects that have led to winning entries in state and regional science fair competitions, and co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals. The budding scientists come from local communities like Bangor and Hermon (Guthrie's hometown), and from as far away as Cumberland in southern Maine.

"Twenty years of doing cutting-edge research and fulfilling a love for teaching have convinced me that one-on-one mentoring is an essential ingredient for the personal growth of most students," says Perkins, who manages the lab.

With HPLC skills, Guthrie says she'll have several career options working in the food industry or in pharmaceuticals. "But I'm also interested in being a high school science teacher," she says. "Having practical lab experience will make a difference in how I teach."

The Stress of Binge Eating

The role of stress in stimulating and sustaining binge eating is the focus of research by University of Maine Provost Fellow and Ph.D. student Stephanie LaMattina.

LaMattina is a member of a four-student team working with Sandy Sigmon, UMaine professor and director of clinical training in the Department of Psychology, on a study of binge eating. Eating a large amount of food in a short time qualifies as binge eating behavior. To date, most studies have focused on the link between binge eating and obesity.

"Stress can make lots of problems worse," says LaMattina, of Malden, Mass., who received one of 10 Provost Fellowships in 2003, competitive awards presented annually to incoming graduate students who are among the most highly recruited in their academic programs. "You can be biologically vulnerable to a health problem, but with stress, symptoms tend to show up more."

LaMattina hopes her findings will contribute to better psychological treatments for binge eaters, including prevention of the behavior before it starts. She and other students are interviewing volunteers who have been clinically diagnosed with binge eating disorder. Key to their work is determining how people respond to stressful situations and understanding how episodes of binge eating affect emotions.

The team also is focusing on cognitive-behavioral treatments, such as keeping diaries and modifying eating patterns. "We encourage individuals to eat smaller amounts of food six times a day, every two to three hours or so," says LaMattina. "A regular pattern can help people avoid becoming really hungry and then eating a lot."

Feelings of distress and loss of self-control are hallmarks of anxiety disorders, says Sigmon. Those emotions may reinforce a consumption pattern that contributes to obesity and a negative self-image. Sigmon specializes in anxiety disorders such as panic disorder and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).


UMaine Today Magazine
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