An Essential Ingredient: Mentoring
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
"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
"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).