Pedro Ramirez and Cassidy Cousins spend time in the lab working on cutting-edge HIV/AIDS research.
After a semester working with Dr. Robert Furler on cutting-edge research, Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW) students Pedro Ramirez and Cassidy Cousins flew to Durban, South Africa, over the summer to attend the 2016 International AIDS Conference.
Both students met Dr. Furler while taking one of his classes—Pedro in genetics and Cassidy in microbiology—and later agreed to assist him in the lab, committing time outside of class and meeting in FSW's newly upgraded science building, Leonhardt Hall.
This spring they joined a dozen other student researchers working on RNA sequencing, which involves the construction of proteins for cellular growth. Dr. Furler's colleagues at the University of California in Los Angeles infected human cells with two types of the HIV virus and FSW students were tasked with observing the genetic expression caused by a specific HIV protein.
"We had a lot of lab time and completed a research paper," Cassidy says, explaining how they analyzed data on a computer and executed a number of vital procedures in the lab.
"It has really opened my eyes to the world of research and HIV/AIDS. I didn't know much about it going into the research."
Opportunities for hands-on research at FSW are more common than ever before. The establishment of a Center for International Education has also connected students with global experiences outside of the classroom.
As attendees at the world's largest HIV/AIDS conference, Pedro and Cassidy will be exposed to a gathering of elite researchers, influential policymakers and people living with the virus.
"We'll be in South Africa for about a week. There will be a lot of talks and seminars about how far we've come with the research and how close all of us are to discovering a cure," says Pedro, who graduated from FSW in May. He's now transferring to Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) to pursue a degree in biology and then attend veterinary school.
The flight to South Africa took approximately 18 hours with a layover in London, where they did some sightseeing before touring South Africa in their downtime and even booking a safari. The trip was the longest either student had ever taken.
Pedro grew up in Fort Myers and says he's never really left the state. Cassidy, on the other hand, explained how prior to the conference she had never gone abroad.
"I've been to Mexico and Canada, but this was my first big trip out of the country," says Cassidy, who also wants to study biology at FGCU after graduating from FSW.
The International AIDS Conference is organized every other year, and the 2016 event was expected to draw more than 18,000 delegates and 1,000 journalists from all over the world.
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