Dimensions joins with alum's research

When senior Wade Swenson realized he had an open first block this year, he walked into the Dimensions Resource Center to explore off-campus medical research opportunities. Dimensions coordinator Bobbi Buckner Bentz ’02 connected him with Dr. Rich Kraig ’71, director of the Cerebrovascular Disease and Aging Laboratories at the University of Chicago.

The connection with Kraig’s lab began early in 2006 with a simple fund-raising call. Kraig learned about Dimensions, Cornell’s recent initiative to encourage and support health care education from a liberal arts perspective, and visited campus in March to learn more. He came away impressed.

“Creativity is almost always the most powerful means to advance knowledge,” he says. “Creativity requires a nurturing environment, a broad breadth of experiences, and an array of supervisors to help guide, but not dominate, discovery. These are precisely the ingredients I found at Cornell years ago and detect there today.”

Buckner Bentz hopes to send two or three students per year to study with Kraig. She says that similar relationships have also been established with trustee Dr. Larry Dorr ’63, medical director of the Dorr Arthritis Institute at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, Calif., and Candice Nulsen ’95, scientific education and outreach coordinator at the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix.

Dimensions also funded several on-campus research students last summer. On campus experiences often precede off campus opportunities for students during the school year or during future summers. Other research pipelines exist simply because students historically have performed so impressively in research environments.

“We often find that once one of our students completes a research position, those labs will come calling for more students,” says Buckner Bentz. “I tell the students that they sell themselves better than we ever could.”

Barbara Christie Pope, Cornell biology professor and Dimensions faculty director, wants to replicate Kraig’s thinslice technique to study living sections of rat hippocampal tissue at Cornell. She and Kraig also hope to establish stem cell studies at Cornell using rat bone marrow. Both efforts would be supported by the University of Chicago.

Furthermore, Kraig relishes the chance to come back to Cornell to lecture and meet with students, and he embraces the larger goals of Dimensions.

“It occurs to me that the One Course At A Time format at Cornell may be ideal for students in all disciplines to ask and pursue questions of how the brain can be made stronger via art, philosophy, language, sports, etc.,” says Kraig. “And not all of this work needs to be done at the experimental research bench.”