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The Devine Scholars
2006 - 2007 University Scholar:
Mentor: Darragh Devine
From writing grants and publishing research to advising graduate students and teaching
classes-the demands on a college professor's time are endless, and providing research
opportunities for undergraduates is one more challenge. Psychology Professor Darragh
Devine has managed to achieve a balance between these important roles and create a
home for budding neuroscientists.
The University Scholars Program, now in its ninth year, has become one of the prime
outlets for University of Florida undergraduates to gain research experience. The
program pairs students with faculty mentors on what is often their first research project.
In 2006-2007 alone, Dr. Devine mentored three University Scholars-a rarity for the
"Dr. Devine's constant service in providing guidance to undergraduates is outstanding,
but his popularity with the students speaks for itself," said Jeanna Mastrodicasa, director
of the University Scholars Program. "He is consistently nominated for recognition as an
excellent mentor and the University Scholars Program is delighted to have his
Emily Barblerl, Andrea Naccarato and Jennifer Wilkinson were the three scholars
mentored this year by Dr. Devine and their papers are published together in this issue of
the Journal of Undergraduate Research. All three projects involved neurobiological
studies of major psychiatric disorders: Barblerl investigated the role of a
neurotransmitter known as N/OFQ in anxiety disorders, Naccarato examined the
neurobiological mechanisms that underlie the contributions of emotional stress to major
depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and Wilkinson studied the neurobiological
basis of self-injurious behaviors linked to autism and intellectual handicaps.
"Each of these three projects made significant contributions to our understanding of the
neurobiological basis of devastating psychiatric disorders," said Devine, who noted that
each project addressed issues for which his lab has received grant funding from the
National Science Foundation and the Cure Autism Now Foundation. "The research
projects they conducted will be integrated with the research from other undergraduate
and graduate students who are working in the lab, and they will all be published in major
As University Scholars, the students were awarded a $3,000 stipend and travel package
from the UF Office of the Provost, while $500 was added to Devine's research budget for
each student he mentored. But the benefits go beyond the financial. In addition to
gaining academic credit, each student gained skills in research design and methodology,
data analysis and critical thinking. They were involved in every stage of the scientific
process-from identification of research issues to experimental analysis and publication.
Barblerl, Naccarato and Wilkinson were welcomed as real members of Devine's research
team-participating in lab meetings and even making presentations themselves. They not
only had strong guidance from Devine, his graduate students-Megan Green, Amber
Muehlmann, and Krlsten Stone in particular-took them under their wings and provided
help and support.
With such a positive first-time research experience, the "Devine Scholars" have each
made the decision to continue in the field of science. Barblerl will begin veterinary school
at the University of Washington in the fall, while Wilkinson is now enrolled in medical
school at the University of Florida. Naccarato is spending the next year working in wildlife
conservation before pursuing an advanced degree in zoology. No matter where life takes
them, it's certain they'll keep in touch with their favorite college professor.
"I find it amazing how Dr. Devine served as a mentor for three undergraduate students
for their senior thesis and USP activities while also supervising the work of graduate
students and applying for many important grants," said Naccarato. "I am very, very
grateful for all he has done to support my academic and research career at UF."
Barblerl agrees. "Dr. Devine gave me my foundation for scientific thinking," she said. "He
was an absolutely outstanding mentor and I owe much of my current knowledge to the
passion and commitment he demonstrated on a daily basis."
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