Newsletter Vol 6: Ragon Summer Student Program

Newsletter Vol 6: Ragon Summer Student Program

Oct 01

Each summer, Ragon hosts students from high school to college levels as part of the Ragon Summer Student Program, encouraging and support future scientists.


For eight weeks, students work under a faculty mentor matched to them by their area of interest. Students generally learn to perform several types of experiments, write protocols and learn to read test results. At the end of their term, each student gives an oral and written presentation of their results.


Students also participate in weekly lunches where faculty members present their research and discuss their career paths. They also are encouraged to attend lab meetings as well as Institute-wide seminars.


Now, as this year’s summer students are starting back at their respective schools, they reflect back on the summer at Ragon:



Whitt Virgin-Downey

I am a rising senior at Harvard University and started working at Ragon as a research assistant the summer after my sophomore year. By the end of the summer, I was running CFSE proliferation assays with postdoc Filippos Porichis. I enjoyed my work so much that I continued to help around the lab during the fall of my junior year.


This summer, I started work on a senior thesis on T-cell exhaustion for my Molecular and Cellular Biology degree under the tutelage of Dr. Daniel Kaufmann.




Patrice Starck

I am a senior Biochemistry major at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). This summer, I worked in the lab of Dr. Bruce Walker with David Shasha and Adam Greenblatt measuring the cytotoxic capacity of CD8+ T cells to inhibit HIV-1 mediated by HLA alleles associated with control or rapid progression of the disease. I love the collegiate atmosphere here and that people are very open to collaboration and helping each other.






Claire Ruberman

I am from Brookline, MA and am a rising junior at Pomona College in Claremont, CA, where I am majoring in math. This is my second summer at the Ragon Institute in Galit Alter’s lab, and this summer I worked on a project with Alison Mahan to determine the expression of glycosyl transfer enzymes in innate receptor stimulated B cells.


It is known that the varied glycosylation patterns of immunoglobulins affect their structures and functions in the immune response. We are interested in studying how stimulating different receptors affects the specific sugar chains on the antibodies that B cells secrete and how changing these sugars can strengthen antibody responses.


It was exciting to work in such a collaborative and welcoming environment and get a glimpse of the varied ways in which researchers approach HIV and other infectious diseases. My experience at the Ragon Institute has encouraged me to pursue my interests in research through both medicine and math.



Tiffany L. Lemon

I am from Opelousas, Louisiana and a Junior studing Biochemistry at Louisiana State University. This summer I worked with Zaza Ndhlovu in Bruce Walker’s lab. My project was to investigate the role of functional avidity in determining CD8+ T cell function.


Working at the Ragon Institute opened my eyes to a unique mode of scientific study, one in which everyone is dedicated to pursuing one goal, an HIV vaccine, while completely engaging the other members of the institute’s community in brilliant collaborations. This dynamic is extremely rare and valuable in science, and as a summer student, I not only had the opportunity to experience this atmosphere, but actually take part in it.


Spending the summer at Ragon has exposed me to many career and educational opportunities that were previously unknown to me. During only ten short weeks, I have grown exponentially as a young researcher, student, and an individual. I look forward to even more amazing work to come out of the Ragon Institute.



Matthew Goroff

I am from Brookline, Massachusetts. I am a rising senior at Brookline High School working towards my high school diploma. This summer was my second working in the Allen Lab at the Ragon Institute.


I worked on a project with post-doc Tim Dudek to show that BLT mice (bone marrow, liver, thymus) models provide an accurate human immune system with which to study HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) . During my seven weeks I worked to sequence and analyze blood samples taken from the mice. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the institute and certainly learned a lot.


Chris Ecker

I am an undergraduate at University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I am a rising junior studying biology with a specific focus in immunology. I worked at the Ragon Institute under the direction of Dr. Marylyn Addo studying T regulatory cells in the context of HIV pathogenesis and trying to identify for the first time, HIV specific T regulatory cells. This project once completed would help further the understanding of Tregs and potentially provide novel targets for vaccine development.


The Ragon Institute allowed me to work in an environment focused on translational medicine, combining research and clinical medicine. This summer has confirmed my goal of going to graduate school and completing a PhD degree. I would like to thank Dr. Bruce Walker, Dr. Sylvie Le Gall, and all the members of the Addo lab for making this an unforgettable summer experience.


Bryana Schoen

I am from Brookline, Massachusetts and am a rising sophomore at Northwestern University, majoring in Radio/Television/Film and planning to minor in global health. This summer I’ve been working on a project to create a promotional video about the Ragon Institute, describing the research done here and highlighting some of the unique qualities of Ragon. I’ve learned a lot this summer not only about filming my own independent video, but about immunology and HIV. This has been an incredible community to work in and I’m proud to contribute to the Ragon Institute’s efforts however I can.


Watch Bryana’s video on our About page.


Elizabeth Byrne

I am originally from Cambridge, Massachusetts and am currently a rising sophomore at Harvard College. I am so excited to be spending the summer working here at the Ragon Institute; it is a great opportunity to work with people from so many amazing institutions in the area who fall all along the spectrum of clinical doctors to bench researches.


This summer, my research focused on γδ T cells and TNF-α inhibitors in the context of HIV infection, especially in the mucosal tissue.



Students and instructors agree that the greatest achievements of the Ragon Summer Student Program is inspiring the next generation of scientists by fostering a long-lasting interest in research, medicine and HIV/AIDS.