Whether a student stays nearby or goes far away, learning becomes an adventure during year three of the Wagner Plan for the Practical Liberal Arts. Here, 'Wagner Magazine' presents the third installment of our multi-year series following students through their four years at Wagner.

This time, we get a glimpse into two students' learning process, whether it's a struggle with advanced microbiology techniques or an immersion into a different language and culture — in their own words.

Anna Lysenko: Life in the Lab

Excerpts from Anna Lysenko's spring 2010 journal about her internship at the Institute for Basic Research on Staten Island, where she studied the effects of Alzheimer's disease on neural development in mouse brains. After graduating in August, she will begin work as a research assistant at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. See a presentation by Lysenko about this research.

Monday, January 18

This week I continued my training in confocal microscopy. I feel like the machine runs on pixie dust, because it seems to work magical things. It's just amazing that you can stain a brain section so that you see only DNA material and have it fluoresce a beautiful bright blue.

Z-stacks are unbelievable to me as well. You take a brain section that is so thin — 8 micrometers, less than a tenth of the thickness of a human hair — and use a laser to slice it into sections that are 20 times thinner, if not even smaller. The computer uses these slices, a z-stack, to create a 3-D image that you can rotate and move around, so you can see all angles of it. It is simply amazing.

I loved how the researchers approached teaching me. They are so happy to be doing their jobs, and it is an unbelievably positive environment. I definitely have more of an understanding of what these people do on a daily basis. And it fit my stereotype very well — they are a bunch of nerdy lab rats, but they love every minute at their job. I know I will love having this as my career.

Tuesday, January 26

This week I spent about 13 hours at my internship doing immunostaining for the confocal microscope. I am really excited to see how it came out; I knew what I was doing more so than the first time around. The only problem that I had was when I was wiping the slide dry in the very end, I accidentally broke it in half and had to glue it back together — I was kind of like the Hulk for a minute.

Tuesday, February 2

This week I learned a lot, but it was also extremely slow. I learned a procedure called PCR, a genetic test that shows whether the animal actually has the gene that we are looking for — in this case, a gene with mutations that cause early Alzheimer's disease. This was a very long process that mainly involved a lot of down time. But in the end, it was exciting to see which mouse actually had the gene and which did not.

Wednesday, March 17

I had a moment of frustration this week when I had to redo immunostaining for probably the third time on the same mouse because the staining was just not of high enough quality. I was following protocol perfectly; I have read over and rewritten all of my instructions numerous times with very careful notes. Redoing the same sections from the same brain is frustrating, because you have to get another appointment to use the confocal, look at the slides again, and see if this time was more successful — and if it wasn't, then next week you have to do it all over again.

Monday, March 29

I spent this week testing different parts of my immunostaining procedure to see what was causing the problems. One of the possibilities my mentor came up with was that the antibody we were using was not good. So we decided to eliminate the secondary antibody and just test the primaries to see if we get different results. We did get better results, but our problem of red dots on some stains was not resolved. This will need further thinking and problem solving.

Wednesday, April 7

This week I continued to test which parts of my immunostaining were not working properly — and I finally found the solution. My mentor suggested that the red dots could be bacteria. We use fetal bovine serum to dilute antibodies and block nonspecific binding, and fetal bovine serum is very prone to bacteria growth. I had to follow a detailed, multi-step process to get rid of any traces of bacteria, and it actually worked. Our samples which we have been re-staining for three weeks now finally do not have red dots on them.

I feel such a sense of accomplishment. I finally solved a problem in the lab and actually was able to provide them with useful information. Although my mentor helped me figure out possible causes of the problem, I did all the work. Also, throughout this whole process, I became very well acquainted with other researchers in my lab, and realized everyone functions as a community, almost like a family. This is truly an environment I want to work in.

Katie Jo Younkins: Life in Israel

Excerpts from Katie Jo Younkins' spring 2010 blog about studying abroad at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, one of Wagner's new programs. Younkins is an international affairs major scheduled to graduate next May. Read her complete blog, True Life: I'm Living in a Bomb Shelter.

Saturday, January 30

On Friday of last week, I went down to the shuk, which is the open-air market, and it was INSANE!!!!!! It was incredible to see all the fresh produce, but it was so busy, as everyone was shopping for Shabbat dinner and Saturday meals. It's really hard to understand that after four o'clock on Fridays and before six o'clock on Saturdays you really are just resting.

Classes started on Monday. Wow. Hebrew is beyond hard. I have been to the grocery store up the street a few times, but still wander through the aisles looking at everything, having no idea what it is. One, I rarely shop and cook on my own, and two ... it's all in Hebrew! Double fail.

The week went on, and I got to know so many more people. Kids from all over the States and the world. It's really exhilarating to see everyone wanting to study here.

Sunday, January 31

Last Saturday evening I went to the community of Pisgat Ze'ev for Tu Bishvat, a holiday like Arbor Day in Israel. Wagner requires me to do community service for 10 hours a week at the Jewish Community Center in Pisgat Ze'ev, the sister organization of the Staten Island JCC. It was a lot of fun, and I am really excited to be going up there each week. It makes me feel as if I have a family already over here. I was introduced to many people in the community, and they were excited to finally meet me, as they knew that a student would be arriving soon.

On the way back, we drove through the West Bank. Yes! The West Bank! It was nothing like I expected. We drove right through the security without being stopped, and then we went to see a Jewish settlement. I was a little nervous, but then we were back in Israel. It is so confusing between what is Arab land and what is Jewish land. I really can't even begin to explain.

Today is Sunday, and we had class — really weird to have classes on Sunday. I keep catching myself staring out the window during class, looking at the West Bank and the mosques. I should be paying attention, but it really is beautiful to just look out onto the desert.

Saturday, February 6

Today my roommate Aviva and I walked around campus and took some pictures. It was really neat, because we heard the bells of the churches and then after that we heard the call to prayer from the mosques. When I first heard it, I was in class and thought it was a lawnmower, and then the next time I thought it was cows. It is very interesting to hear.

On the east side of campus, you look into the West Bank. It is crazy to just sit there and watch. I mean, I'm in the center of the world, for everything — religion, politics. And it looks so peaceful and serene. It's just mountains everywhere, desert mountains. They go on forever. That view will never get old.

I just can't wrap my head around how people are living in this area and there is so much controversy. They are truly just living their lives. It is so different than what I thought before coming out here.

Wednesday, March 3

Classes I am taking: Hebrew, Arab-Israeli Conflict, Historical Geography of Jerusalem, and Peace Building and Conflict Resolution. Classes are going really well so far. Hebrew is a much slower pace, and I feel that I am finally catching on.

Monday, March 15

Last Wednesday I went up to Pisgat Ze'ev. I had to take a cab up there, and I spoke in Hebrew to the driver! I mean I only said, “Kenyon Pisgat Ze'ev,” which is the mall there, but he turned the wrong way and then I told him where to turn ... in Hebrew! It felt satisfying.

Tuesday, March 23

For my Historical Geography class, we had a field trip to the Old City again. What a beautiful day! It is just so interesting going down to the Old City and seeing something different each time. We saw about three bar mitzvahs. Watching the families singing and dancing just shows how important this culture and religion really is. I don't think it hit me until I saw how happy the mothers and grandmothers were. There is true joy in the fact that their child is entering the world as an adult.

We were down on the southern part of the Temple Mount, seeing the Babylonian and Umayyad temples. When I sit on the stones, I'm always asking myself, How on Earth am I here in Israel doing something like this? It randomly hits me how lucky I am to have an opportunity to study and travel in this country.