Countdown to SSTP: 6 U of I Alums to Know!

Phew—with 90° days in Iowa City, it already feels like summer over here. The official start of summer is just three weeks away, which means SSTP is, too! With a new class of young researchers about to arrive, let’s take a moment to look back at some beloved University of Iowa alumni.

The University has a long and proud history of excellent arts and research, and this short list is by no means exhaustive. For those of you new to the University, though, it’s a great start!

  1. Everett Franklin Lindquist (PhD, ’27). Champion of statistical hypothesis testing, Lindquist created the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and later, the ACT and GED. His impacts on the fields of education and statistics have left lasting marks.
  2. George Gallup (PhD, ’28). Inventor of the public poll, Gallup changed the tenor of American politics in ways still reverberating today. His eponymous poll remains the gold standard.
  3. Tennessee Williams (BA, ’38). Arguably the most important playwright of the 20th century, Williams’ dark, sardonic works The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire have entered the pantheon of classic world literature. Tennessee Williams NYWTS.jpg
  4. James Van Allen (PhD, ’39). World-renowned astrophysicist and discoverer of the eponymous Van Allen Belt, he would go on to become a professor in and head of the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. 
  5. Flannery O’Connor (MFA, ’49). Master of the short story and leading proponent of Southern Gothic literature, O’Connor honed her craft right here at the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop.
  6. Joe Russo (BA, ’92). With his brother Anthony, Russo has ushered in the golden age of comic book cinema. His filmography includes this year’s hyper-blockbuster Avengers: Infinity War, although Donald Glover fans may know him best for his work on cult-TV darling CommunityJoe Russo.jpgHonorable mention: Aston Kutcher (??) The University’s second most beloved dropout (after the redoubtable Dan Rather), Kutcher is increasingly known not for his comedic acting roles, but for his role as a trendsetting VC in Silicon Valley.Ashton Kutcher by David Shankbone.jpg


Images from wikipedia under the creative commons license. Photo credits to Gage Skidmore and David Shankbone

Countdown to SSTP: 7 Ways to Estivate like an Iowan!

Summer in Iowa City is full of life. Do like the students and take advantage of everything the downtown has to offer!

1. Relax on the Pentacrest, our name for the university campus core. Bask in the warm Iowa summer by playing Frisbee or soccer on the lush lawn in front of the Old Capitol Building, once the great state of Iowa’s governmental seat, now the university building at the heart of the Pentacrest.

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2. Pick up some summer reading at Prairie Lights, bookstore to the literati! Hobnob with locals and writers-in-residence alike over tea as you browse thousands of titles.



3. Shop local! Iowa City boasts scores of locally-owned boutiques, ranging from clothiers to music shops to specialty cacti-only florists, and everything in between.



4. Try out a restaurant downtown. There’s something for everyone, from beloved local greasy-spoons to chic new foodie hangouts. Por qué no los dos? Pullman’s Diner serves up traditional American fare with a hip, modern twist.



5. Beat the heat at Iowa City’s own hometown café, The Java House, which slings ice-cold coffee drinks of every variety using their own house roasts and blends. Then, head next door to Heirloom Salad Company for a cool, crisp bowl of tasty greens.

Image result for java house iowa city


6. Take a stroll through the pedestrian mall. A few years ago, Iowa City closed the downtown to automobile traffic, leaving the city’s core open to flaneurs and café denizens along its brick-paved streets. On weekend evenings, enjoy strains of live music as you window-shop.



7. Speaking of which, see some live music! Iowa City hosts numerous festivals throughout the summer, including Jazz festival, which features dozens of free performances.

SSTP RA Photos 2017-54


Keep abreast of all upcoming events with the calendar at, the local guide for what’s going on.

7 Things to Pack for SSTP 2018

Only three weeks until SSTP 2018 begins, so it’s time to start thinking about what to pack. Here’s a short list of 7 items you shouldn’t be without:

  1. Rain gear! Iowa summer weather can be unpredictable. Make sure you’re prepared…brown and beige wooden barn surrounded with brown grasses under thunderclouds
  2. Official identification. ‘Nuff said.document id uk driving license driving licence
  3. Clean clothes are key! Make sure you have what you need to do laundry.person looking searching clean
  4. Iowa weather is unpredictable! Hot days can turn into cold nights. Pack warm clothes for when the temperature drops.prairie-dog-cynomys-burrowing-rodent-ground-squirrel-64229.jpeg
  5. Bring swim gear. The University of Iowa has pools for you to use on the hot summer days… and water balloons!SSTP 027
  6. Make sure you pack your computer. You’ll want it for the evening seminars, as well as any other work you may want to do outside of normal research hours. 20160712-DSC_0007
  7. Bring your Sunday best, so to speak. You won’t need to fancy clothes every day, but during the final research presentations, you’ll want to look spiffy.SSTP Group Photo 2017-8.jpg

If you have any questions about what else to bring and what to leave at home, email, and we’ll be happy to advise you on what’s a smart addition to your suitcase.

Acceptance Status FAQ

Acceptance emails for the Summer 2018 Secondary Student Training Program go out on Monday! With this information comes lots of questions, so here are answers to some of the most frequent questions we get.

Q: I’m an alternate. Why was I selected as an alternate?
A: Multiple factors determine the selection process for SSTP. We examine transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendations, and essay responses. After selecting students based on these criteria, we begin trying to find research group placements that would be a good match based on declared research interests, previous research experiences, and high school coursework. When all of the pieces fall into place, we are able to offer a placement in a research group for the summer.  In many cases, we are unable to offer students with outstanding application materials a spot in a research group right away because we are unable to find a suitable lab placement.

Q: I’m an alternate. What number am I on the wait list?
A: We work to match you with your indicated research interest. Because of this, names on the wait list aren’t just ranked 1 – 100. When a student declines their invitation to SSTP, we look for an alternate with similar research interests that might make a good match in the open research group seat.

Q: I’m an alternate. I really want to come to SSTP, but I’ve been invited to join other programs.  What should I do?
A: This is a question only you can answer.  We cannot guarantee that anyone on the wait list will be offered a spot in the SSTP program.

Q: I’ve been accepted. Why can’t I contact my mentor?
A: There are a few reasons we ask that you don’t contact your mentor. First, this is a busy time of year for faculty mentors! They are in the home stretch of their teaching assignments, helping students graduate, working on advisees’ dissertations, etc. In an effort to be respectful of their time, mentors do not formally engage with the program until June 1st.

Q: I’ve been accepted to SSTP! What’s next?
A: First and foremost, we need to know you’re serious about coming, which means you have to make a down payment on tuition. You received information about making this payment in your email. You have 3 options:

1) Make an SSTP payment in full by April 10th,

2) Make the suggested down payment to SSTP by April 9th, or

3) Contact the Belin-Blank Center to set up some sort of payment plan by April 9th.

The most important thing is that you make some sort of contact with us before April 9th to let us know you’re interested in coming to SSTP! If you’ve been accepted to the program and you have not made a financial commitment by April 9th, we reserve the right to offer your placement to another student on the waitlist

Interview with an SSTP Alumnus

Just what research fields are open to SSTP applicants?

In October, the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbach, and Michael Young for their groundbreaking research into the genetic mechanisms that regulate the circadian rhythm of fruit flies. Here at the University of Iowa, meanwhile, SSTP mentor Dr. Bridget Lear has been performing her own groundbreaking research in the very same subject, and last summer, SSTP alumnnus Arshaq Saleem was a researcher in her lab. He spoke with us recently about his application, working in the lab, and his aspirations for the future.

The following interview has been edited for formatting.


Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Arshaq. How did you discover the Secondary Student Training Program?

I had attended the Blank Summer Institute for the Arts and Sciences when I was younger, so I wanted to continue. Additionally, some of my friends had participated in SSTP, and they gave very positive reviews. I wanted to gain hands-on experience doing research to see if I would like it as a potential career. Rather than just learning about concepts in textbooks, I figured it would be much more useful to apply them in a laboratory setting.


What were your research interests going into the program?

In my sophomore year, I had to write a research paper on genetic engineering. It was at this time that I stumbled across CRISPR/Cas9 as a gene-editing technology. I was intrigued by its potential in gene therapy, so I chose to write my paper about it. actogram.jpgWhen applying to SSTP, I hoped that I would be able to work on a project related to CRISPR. Dr. Lear, my SSTP mentor, luckily gave me a project that used CRISPR to analyze how specific gene mutations in fruit flies affect circadian rhythms. The project was too long to be completed in my time at SSTP, but we were able to make good progress.


What did you think of the research process?

I really enjoyed the research that I did in Dr. Lear’s lab. One thing I quickly came to realize, however, was that research does not always produce the results we want the first time around. It took Alexander Graham Bell, of course, thousands of attempts to perfect the telephone, but only after taking part in research did I come to understand how frustrating it is when things don’t go well. There were a few occasions where some of our procedures simply failed, and we had to redo the experiments completely.

SSTP Extracurriculars 2017-5On the other hand, though, when things did go well, it was extremely satisfying, and it validated my efforts as a researcher. Over the course of the program, I made several mistakes, but these mistakes helped shape my understanding of standard laboratory procedures. SSTP was my first real experience doing lab work; I had previously interned at another lab in the University of Iowa, but because I was too young, I could not perform any experiments.


Recently, your research area made world news with the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for “discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm” of the fruit fly. When and how did you first hear the news?

I am interested in developments in medicine, so when it came time for the Nobel Prize announcements, I was curious to see what research was given the Nobel Prize in Medicine. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was given to circadian rhythm biologists that worked with fruit flies.

I felt even more proud of my research after the announcement. The research that I worked on during SSTP is definitely related to that of the Nobel Prize winners’, and it aims to build off of the base of knowledge that they created. I was also glad to see these researchers being recognized because work on circadian rhythms does not receive much attention in mass media compared to other fields of study in medicine, despite its importance.


How was it working with your mentor, Dr. Lear?

I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Lear, as well as Xinguo Lu, the blear_lggraduate student who worked with me, and Stephanie Haase and Jessica Draus, the other graduate students in Dr. Lear’s lab. All of them were very patient with me, they answered my questions, and they explained the concepts clearly. There were definitely times when I was in over my head, but I always had someone to ask for help.

Since I live in Iowa City, I’ve been lucky enough to continue my connection with Dr. Lear. I have spoken to her about updates to the project, and I intend to revisit the lab soon.


You’ve clearly got a bright future ahead of you. Where do you want to go with your future research?

I appreciate the kind words. I am currently interested in pursuing a pre-med track in college. I hope to continue working in labs in college, since I think it will benefit me greatly when I become a doctor.


Do you have any word of advice for future SSTP applicants?

SSTP strengthened me as a student of science, but also as a person (as I had to live away from my parents and be more responsible). For future SSTP participants, I have the following advice:  Ask your mentor/graduate students lots of questions, and don’t ever feel like you are annoying them; learn from your mistakes; make lots of friends; don’t spend all your time doing research (remember to have fun!); read lots of papers related to your research; and most importantly, have confidence in yourself and believe that you can complete the project.

I would also advise anyone that is even slightly interested in research, be it in math, science, or computer science, to apply for SSTP. Make sure you show your passion for science in the essays, because they are a major part of the application process.

SSTP Poster Session 2017-1


Countdown to Applications

The Secondary Student Training Program at the University of Iowa is now officially open to applications! To prepare, let’s take a moment to go over what you can expect during the application process.

On the SSTP homepage, click on the green Apply Now button:



Step 1: Creating Your Account 

After clicking on Apply Now, you will be asked to create a personal application account. To make your account, you will be required to provide personal information, including your address, your home phone number, and your date of birth. Please make sure you include the email address you intend to use for all future communication with the Belin-Blank Center in the highlighted fields you see below:


Once you have filled out each of the fields, click on the Apply button to proceed to the next part of the application.

Step 2: The Application Fee

Next, you will land at the following page:


Click on Continue to proceed to the payment portal, where you will be asked to fill out credit card information. The application fee for SSTP at the University of Iowa is $50.00. Upon acceptance to the program, the $50.00 application fee will be credited towards your program costs. Please note that only Visa and Mastercard payment can be accepted.


The AmountInvoice Number, Description, Program, and Record_ID fields will populate automatically. Once you’ve filled out the top three fields (Name on cardCard NumberExpiration Date), click Process to complete the payment and move on to the next step of the application.

Step 3: Your Application Checklist

After clicking Process, you will land at the Application Checklist page. It will look something like this:

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Most of your the buttons should be red at the beginning, but they will turn green as you complete the various application requirements. To see a detailed description of what requirements you still have to complete, click on one of the red buttons.

Step 4: Application Responses and Research Interests

If you click on the Application Responses and Research Interests button, you will see the following:


On the left hand side are three prompts. The first two are essay questions. These essays are your chance to introduce yourself and communicate what makes you a great candidate for SSTP. For the essay questions, we strongly recommend composing your responses in a word processor such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs and using the word count tool. Both essay responses are capped at 750 words, so please watch your word count and be careful not to exceed it. Once you feel like you have answered the prompts to your satisfaction, click the Edit button below the final prompt, and then copy and paste your essays into the boxes that appear to the right:


The final prompt on the left hand side asks for your research interests. Here, you should not answer in essay form.

To save your entries in each field, click the Update button that appears below the final prompt.

Step 5: Application Materials

In addition to your essays and research interests, you will also have to submit 2 teacher recommendations, a high school transcript, and test scores from the SAT, PSAT, ACT, PLAN, or similar. To do so, click on the Application Materials button, and the following menu will pop down:

Application materials

You will see that for the teacher recommendations, we ask that you enter the email address of the teachers who intend to submit a recommendation letter on your behalf. First, talk to your teachers about your application, and see who can give you a recommendation. Then, once you have their confirmation, enter your 2 recommending teachers’ email addresses into the fields given and click Send Request.

You will also see that we ask for your high school transcript. Here, you should also include college-level courses you may have taken, as well as any other courses you may have taken outside of school. Please note, however, that only one document can be submitted, so make sure you merge all your transcript materials into a single .pdf document before uploading.

Lastly, you must submit 1 test score from a standardized exam. If you are unsure whether the test score you wish to submit meets our criteria, please contact us at with the details regard your test of choice before you submit it, and we will let you know if your test score is eligible as quickly as possible. You may submit only 1 score, so make sure you choose the test results that you feel best reflect your abilities.

Step 6: Where’s the Submit Button?

Once you have completed each section of the Application Checklist, each button will turn green, and your application status will say, “Complete – Pending Acceptance” as indicated below:


Once you see the “Complete” message, no further action is required. You can continue working on your application until the submission deadline on February 1st, at which time, you will no longer be able to edit your materials.

On April 2nd, 2018, successful applications will be notified of their acceptance via the email address provided in the application.

If you ever lose your place during the application process, have no fear. Simply navigate back to the application from the SSTP homepage and click on the green Apply Now button:


Good luck! Feel free to reach out to if you have any questions. We look forward to seeing your application.


Astrophysics Alumna’s SSTP Research Published


2015 Alumna Liza Casella must be over the moon. Last month, her SSTP mentor Dr. Philip E. Kaaret published the paper she co-authored, “Resolving the X-ray emission from the Lyman continuum emitting galaxy Tol 1247-232,” in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Dr. Kaaret’s study focused on a deep mystery of astrophysics: why do we see such bright stars in the night sky?

Galaxies-AGN-Inner-Structure.svgBlack holes may be the answer. After the big bang, the universe filled with gasses that, like clouds on a stormy day, should blot out interstellar light. The super-massive black holes at the cores of galaxies, however, spin so quickly that they shoot off matter, creating winds that pierce the cosmic fog and allowing light to shine through, Dr. Kaaret and his team hypothesize.

It looks like Ms. Casella, now studying at Barnard College, has a bright future ahead of her!