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Arnold School of Public Health

S.C. Governor’s School honors James Carson with Distinguished Research Leadership Award

February 2, 2016 | Erin Bluvas, 

The South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM) recognized Exercise Science Professor and Chair James Carson as the 2016 recipient of the Distinguished Research Leadership Award at their 27th Annual Research Colloquium in Hartsville on January 30. Established in 2015, the award is designed to honor the distinguished scientists and engineers who mentor GSSM students through the school’s Summer Program for Research Interns. Carson, who has mentored students through GSSM’s summer research program for 12 years, is the second person to ever receive this award.

The school’s one-of-a-kind Summer Program for Research Interns and its international counterpart, Research Experience for Scholars Program, provide avenues for seniors at GSSM to complete a requirement of their education—an independent research project overseen by scientists and business professionals from across the state and around the world. Under the mentorship of scientists like Carson, students conduct research for six weeks at universities or corporate research and development facilities.

The first cohort of students completed their projects during the summer of 1990 (with the international component beginning in 2011), and GSSM expects their largest class this summer with around 140 students participating. Along with this growth, USC’s participation has increased as well. Throughout the program’s tenure, more than 2,000 students have conducted research internships with over 750 mentors. Within that pool, 185 faculty members have provided research placements to 530 students at USC’s various campuses.

In 2015, researchers at the main campus in Columbia provided research opportunities to 41 students, including international participants from Germany and Korea. Carson himself mentored two GSSM students and two international students from that group.

During Emilia Ballou’s research 2015 project with Carson, she studied the effects of cancer on muscle wasting—one of Carson’s areas of expertise. Ballou learned skills and procedures of a research lab, including surgical techniques, as well as how an actual research lab is executed. “The opportunity to work in Dr. Carson’s lab gave me the practical skills and knowledge necessary to pursue a career in microbiology and helped refine my interests in exercise science,” she says.

On another project related to cancer and muscle wasting, Hemani Patel studied with Carson to learn about protein expression for individuals with these conditions. Patel’s experience in Carson’s lab has furthered her interest in biochemistry, which she plans to major in for her bachelor’s degree. She also plans to attend medical school and pursue a career conducting research in the field of genetics. “I am very grateful to have worked in a lab under a remarkable mentor like Dr. Carson,” says Patel. “He was always interested and thrilled about the progress on my research project, and his guidance helped me learn many interesting and important lab procedures that will definitely help me in my future endeavors.”

“This program fits well with our mission to allow our nationally competitive research laboratory to incubate an interest in biomedical research in promising students,” says Carson. "True progress in biomedical research involves a continual chain of important scientific breakthroughs that build from prior discoveries. This vital chain of innovation only moves forward by taking the time and care to develop the next generation of biomedical researchers, and this is a part of the scientific process that I have found immensely rewarding.”

Carson’s commitment to students at every level has led him to mentor more than 30 high school students (25 through the GSSM program) and graduate 10 PhD students. Many of his doctoral graduates have gone on to post-doctoral fellowships at prestigious institutions, including Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

"Dr. Carson is an incredible model of the commitment and qualities that make…research mentors invaluable to our research program, which is why it is such a pleasure to award him GSSM’s Distinguished Research Leadership Award," says Randy La Cross, VP for Outreach and Research at GSSM.