“It feels good to be recognized for all the things I do around campus and the department. I do these things because of the good intrinsic value. I really enjoyed the opportunity to be in service - like being a STAR Lab and UBRP mentor, a host for Meet MCB! as well my lab research.”
Erik Lehmkuhl is the 2021 winner of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology’s Outstanding Graduate for Service Award. The Award for Service is presented to a graduate student who has demonstrated attention to broader impacts and involvement in activities outside of academic responsibilities that benefit the department, university, and the larger community.
Lehmkuhl is nearing the end of his PhD program and expects to be awarded his PhD in June. Throughout his graduate program in MCB, he consistently and happily volunteered for a multitude of projects, from judging science fairs, to mentoring STAR Lab students and UBRP students, volunteering at MCB events such as Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books and Meet MCB! and volunteering at the annual UBRP Conference.
Being a graduate student in the Zarnescu Lab, Lehmkuhl has mentored many undergraduate students in the lab, including UBRP students, KEYS students and other undergraduate students. In the fall of 2019, Lehmkuhl volunteered in the Students Taking Advantage of Research (STAR) Lab, mentoring a high school student. “I had to calibrate my teaching to high school students. A key for the STAR Lab is to find projects that can contribute actively to the research project and promote student growth, while remaining somewhat isolated from the hectic, everchanging nature of academic research so that the student can focus on learning foundational science skills.”
When the STAR Lab was launched in the fall of 2019 Lehmkuhl was immediately on board and signed up to be a research mentor. The STAR Lab is a high school outreach collaboration at the University of Arizona between the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation (SARSEF). The STAR Lab supports high school student science, research and engineering projects. Lehmkuhl, and the other STAR Lab mentors met with the high school students weekly to discuss and review progress. The projects culminate in the SARSEF annual science fair where the high school students present their research. Lehmkuhl worked with STAR Lab student, Karah Mayer, for two years. The first year Lehmkuhl and Mayer met in person in the STAR Lab as she did her project and prepared for her presentation at the 2020 SARSEF Fair. Mayer’s project received 1st place at SARSEF Fair and 2nd place at the International Science and Engineering Fair.
This year, due to COVID-19 pandemic, Lehmkuhl, as well as the rest of the mentors, worked with their high school students online, on research projects tailored to the allow the students to do their research at home. “This year the project was bio-informatics related. Karah learned R and data management skills. These skills are seldom emphasized in early lab experiences and are becoming increasingly relevant to both biology and the world at large.” Lehmkuhl worked with the same high school student this year as he did in 2020, which helped when they met only online. The students presented their projects online this year at the 2021 SARSEF Fair and Mayer won 1st place again in her category. She will be competing again at ISEF in May. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with Karah’s presentations, especially this years. It’s been great to see how both her presentation skills and project knowledge developed over a year and half working together.”
“I like the High School age group and figuring out what the right balance is for the students. I really like the activity of teaching” Lehmkuhl noted about mentoring high school students. Come fall, Lehmkuhl will spend much more time teaching and mentoring high school students, as he recently accepted a position as the Biotech science teacher at Pueblo High School in Tucson. Longtime and beloved Biotech teacher, Dr. Andrew Lettes is retiring this year and the soon to be Dr. Lehmkuhl will be assuming that role. We look forward to hosting the future Dr. Lehmkuhl, this time as a Biotech teacher bringing his students to the UA campus, for the 2021 Meet MCB! Event!
Media coverage on the paper that Lehmkuhl is first author on:
Read the paper here.