For University of Wisconsin Oshkosh assistant professor of biology Courtney Kurtz, the most gratifying part of her job is taking students to conferences and meetings.
“It is rewarding to see them mingle with other students. For my undergraduate students, they are usually the only undergraduates there so they get to interact with people who are more senior and I have always had good comments from faculty on how mature and knowledgeable my students are,” Kurtz said.
Kurtz, who has a bachelor’s degree in biology from UW-Stevens Point and a doctorate in comparative biomedical sciences from UW-Madison, earned an honorable mention at UW Oshkosh’s Celebration of Scholarship for her role as a faculty mentor.
“She is tireless in helping her students as they leave UW Oshkosh for bigger and better things, providing networking for graduate school placement opportunities as well as innumerable letters of recommendation,” said Dana Merriman, Axle Tech international professor of biology at UWO.
Since joining the UW Oshkosh biology department in 2010, Kurtz has mentored 18 undergraduate students in research projects. Her own research centers on hibernation in ground squirrels.
“We are studying immunology and obesity during hibernation,” Kurtz said. “Hibernators go into a cycle of fattening, and in humans, obesity and fat tissues lead to inflammation and other issues. We are looking at potentially using squirrels to treat human obesity and are working toward an NIH (National Institute of Health) grant.”
Hibernators go through massive immune changes from high white blood cell counts to zero and then when they wake up the white blood cell count comes back up, Kurtz said.
“People have always said ground squirrels could be a model for obesity,” Kurtz said. “It’s a new area in human studies.”
Kurtz said she has always loved ground squirrels and hibernation, and sharing that with her students is rewarding.
“I bring students into the lab and have them hold the ground squirrels and they are cold and don’t move and the students are always fascinated with that,” Kurtz said.
For graduating senior biology major Vishwajit Tuchscherer, his time spent in Kurtz’s lab has prepared him for graduate school.
“Through example, she started small showing me how to properly pipette samples or document lab experiments in the lab notebook to how to perform lab protocols, while always being open to questions,” Tuchscherer said. “She had confidence in me and continues to push her students to grow their knowledge of lab experience.”
In her lab, Kurtz pairs new students with more senior students to provide a lot of a hands-on training
“I find that most undergraduates have been way more dedicated than I ever would have thought. They come in on weekends and even stay late,” Kurtz said. “I have never had bad personality clashes. My students become a little family with brother/sister mentoring between students.”