Professor honored with Research Mentor Award

Minnesota State University, Mankato’s own Dr. Samantha Katner was awarded the 2021 Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award this past Thursday. This award is given out to a faculty member who gives dedication to scholarly undergraduate research and creative work.

“I didn’t even know they nominated me. That was a really nice surprise, I have really good research students,” Katner stated.

For a faculty member to receive this award, they must be nominated by MSU students through the Undergraduate Research Center on campus. This allows students to recognize the staff who have helped guide them through their academic career.

Over the past four years at MSU, and carrying over from Virginia CommonWealth University, Katner has been working on two main projects with her students.

“One project is on liver cancer and the other project is on glioblastoma, which is a brain cancer. My research size is typically ten undergraduate research students. About half are working on each project, and I typically have sophomores to seniors in there,” Katner explained.

She discussed further what type of work the research students complete in her lab.

“Usually, a student comes into my lab either sophomore or junior year and they spend at least two semesters in the lab. They get to really know their project and can present their project at a local meeting, such as the URS (Undergraduate Research Symposium),”  Katner stated. “If they stay in my lab a little bit longer than two semesters and they generate more data, then they can present at a national meeting, like AACR (American Association for Cancer Research).” 

Going into further detail about her research, Katner explained her passion in the carbohydrates that are found on the top of the cancer cells.

“I’m interested in the carbohydrates that are on the cancer cell surface for both cancers. We’re looking at targeting those carbohydrate genes that are on brain cancer and liver cancer,” she stated. “We have some compounds that we are targeting and we are hoping to help advance the therapeutic approach for those cancers.” 

Katner is appreciative of all of her students who voted for her to win this award, and is also delighted the University recognizes the hard work these students put into their studies.

“I’m really happy that my students nominated me. I think it’s great that the University recognizes the research that we do and the mentorship we provide to the undergraduates. I personally love doing the research here with the undergraduate students, that’s why I came here,” she stated.

Katner explained the type of work MSU students put in for their research and how different it is compared to other universities.

“It’s very much a rarity in other universities [for undergraduates] to be able to join a lab and have a project to do. Usually undergrads are just volunteers that just wash dishes or make buffers, but here they actually have their own projects and they get to present and they get to write grants for everything. It’s really such a cool opportunity that we have.”

Unlike other schools, Katner is able to train the undergraduate research students herself, instead of having graduate students do the work for her. This is another aspect she loves and appreciates, as she’s able to watch the undergraduate students conduct the research themselves. 

“I think it’s great that this university is promoting undergraduate research here. I think it helps set the university apart from others and it’s such a rare opportunity for students to take advantage of, is having that undergraduate research,” Katner stated.

Header Photo: Dr. Samantha Katner was awarded the Outstanding Undergraduate Research Mentor Award for her research on liver cancer and glioblastoma. (Maddie Behrens/The Reporter)

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