Sawyer Muir

Searching for the cure:
The discovery of novel anti-cancer agents

Dr. Michael Kennedy teaches physical chemistry, protein nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (protein NMR), and protein crystallography at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Kennedy has been at Miami for 12 years and has taught Searching for the Cure: The Discovery of Novel Anti-Cancer Agents four times.

Kennedy conceived the idea of his module when he attended a seminar were an investigator talked about involving large groups of undergraduate students to try to identify new biological compounds that had biological activity. The students would do this by collecting plant materials in the Amazon Forest. His idea was to recreate this by looking for biologically active molecules by collecting mushroom samples from local forests.

Searching for the Cure module students work on their final presentation.                                  — Photo by Sawyer Muir

For the last few years, high school students tested extracts from mushrooms for new antibiotic possibilities. However, this year the module is more focused on testing mushrooms for the ability to stop cancer cell growth.

This year, Kennedy wanted students to know how to prepare extracts from mushroom samples and test them on a human pancreatic cancer cell line. He also wanted them to test the ability of the extract to slow down cancer cell growth with the ultimate goal of identifying the act of compounding and eventually attempting to use it as part of treating cancer.

Students show off their mushroom samples from a Oxford, Ohio, forest. — Photo by  Sawyer Muir

According to Kennedy if students could only take one lesson from his module it would be to “appreciate the diversity and versatility of natural plants and mushrooms for producing substances that have biological activity and not to overlook the biological substances that are generated by plants.”

Kennedy was definitely able to get this lesson through to his students. “This class has had a lasting impact on what I plan to do with my future. I have learned so much about the benefits and harmful effects of mushrooms and other natural plants,” stated Chloe Bell.

Kennedy’s students plan on presenting their findings with a presentation slideshow at the Miami Scholars banquet.

Thomas Day: Helping hands

Not everyone gets the opportunity to travel to Alaska. Thomas Day, 17, got that chance in June, traveling with his father. After 17 hours of travel from West Lafayette, Indiana, Day went backpacking for a full week. Day’s favorite recollection of the trip was stumbling upon a field of 40 or more caribou. Another time, Day spotted a grizzly bear near his campsite and had to pack up his tent and hike out quickly.

Through his church, Day travels on mission trips yearly. He has been to Brooklyn, New York; Denver, Colorado; and the country of Haiti. For 9 days in the Spring of 2017, Day assisted in building an orphanage through Imagine Missions, a church organization. Day discovered that running in Haiti can be quite a challenge with few traffic laws and other events occurring on the side of the road. “Every two days they would bring all of the livestock from the market but they would keep them alive so they would taste better. When I would go running I once saw the goats being slaughtered.”Kids at the orphanage only get meat every two weeks even though goats are being slaughtered daily.

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Thomas Day prepares for a track meet in Indiana. — Contributed photo

Day helps not only the poor but also special need students at his own school, West Lafayette High School. Day enjoys helping these children form relationships in the Best Buddies club and is in Unified Track which helps special needs kids run track. Recently, Day helped with the Special Olympics game in Seattle where he met the CEO of Microsoft and other celebrities.

This fall, Day will return for his fourth straight year as student body president at his high school. He chose the Lost Cities and Civilizations module because he is fascinated by history and loves the outdoors. He plays video games in his free time such as GTA 5, Battlefield 1, and Call of Duty. Day is considering majoring in anthropology, history, or film studies.

Raz Bobgan: Finding gratitude in the little things

Raz Bobgan is going into his 12th year at Lake Ridge Academy in Cleveland, Ohio. Last March during spring break Bobgan traveled to Nicaragua with fellow classmates. He helped build the foundation of a local elementary school. Bobgan quickly discovered how grateful he was for even the smallest amenities, “Not just things like food should not be taken for granted but smaller things that we don’t even think about like temperatures and cleanliness.”

When working on the school Bobgan had to wear hot and heavy safety gear and got extremely dirty. He also toured Nicaragua seeing sandy beaches and vast mountains. The trip was led by two Spanish teachers who Bobgan still keeps in contact with. Bobgan studied Spanish for a while with one of the teachers and then attempted Japanese but felt like he wasn’t learning anything.

Raz Bobgan studies others gaming work in order to gain inspiration for his own. — Contributed photo

Besides travel, Bobgan is currently in the process of writing a sci-fi/ fantasy novel that has been in the works since his seventh grade. Bobgan also spends his free time playing video games such as Overwatch and Minecraft. His love for these games motivated Bobgan to join Miami Scholars Module: The Art of Game Design which he has been enjoying immensely.


Kevin Walz: Boy Scout adventures

Not many people have the opportunity to say that they have been to New River Gorge National Park in Fayette County, West Virginia. Kevin Walz, from Wheaton, Illinois,  went on two different occasions in the summer of 2017.

New River Gorge welcomes Boy Scouts through their High Adventure Base Camp called The Summit Bechtel Reserve. This weeklong summer program exposes the Scouts to introductory level experiences for other adventure courses offered. Walz is an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. In West Virginia, Walz white water rafted, hiked, learned to tie knots and spotted lots of wildlife including groundhogs, opossum, and raccoons. His second time he went with his family for a week and a half to a resort where he lived in a log cabin and ate s’mores over a campfire that he had built through prior Boy Scout training.

Kevin Walz (right) celebrates his high school basketball team’s win. — Contributed photo

Walz travels a lot with his troop. His most impressive trip is when he backpacked in Philmont Scout Ranch, New Mexico, and hiked 100 miles in two weeks. “Philmont was incredible. I learned so much about leadership and my own boundaries.”

Like many other teenage boys, Walz plays Xbox games such as GTA 5, Halo, and Battlefield 1. However, unlike most teenage boys he is also part of Bennett High School’s cross country team, films football games and has been the head manager for the boy’s basketball team since his freshman year. Walz is interested in becoming a mechanical engineer and joining ROTC.


Behind Media that Matters

The Media Matters module at Miami University through the Summer Scholars program has taught me about myself and the journalism community. Media comes in so many forms such as newspapers, television, internet, magazines, and radio and affects so many different people in different ways. I learned that certain media industries are dying like newspapers and radio while the internet continues to thrive. 

After visiting five newsrooms in a single day I had a pretty good idea of the environment that I could possibly be working in if I went into the media world. My favorite setting was the busy, somewhat hectic, television studio. The news director from WCPO-TV, Chip Mahaney, told us that live TV only gets one shot to get their message across. There are no retakes in live TV which is part of the thrill of working in the industry.

Media Matters students gather outside of their headquarters at Miami University on the first day.  — Photo by Patricia Gallagher Newberry

Megan Alley from the Clermont Sun taught me that journalism is a lifestyle. Journalists have a very fluid schedule and very rigorous deadlines. Kevin Schultz from the Cincinnati magazine taught me to fact check everything I write. TV reporter Ben Garbarek talked about the struggle that some journalists have because they have to shoot and edit their own stories. Garbarek also suggested when interviewing people that instead of simply reading off your questions instead you have a conversation with the interviewee which makes the interview more comfortable and natural.

I also learned a lot of vocabulary in this module. For example, I didn’t know what a “beat” was or a lead. I also now recognize the difference between a reporter and a columnist. A reporter has no opinion in their writing and a columnist has an opinion.

From this course, I have learned that I am not really interested in journalism but I feel that it was very important to take this course. Stepping into a journalist’s world and seeing the world from that perspective has really shaped the way I will forever see the industry. I have gotten a sense of what it feels like to speak the truth as your job and it is very real and can at times be scary. I believe that journalism is a very noble occupation that deserves much more respect and recognition than it currently receives.

About the author

Sawyer Muir is a senior at Highland Park High School in Highland Park, Illinois. Muir was adopted from China at 10 months and lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania until he moved to Illinois at age 5, where he currently resides.


Muir has a multitude of interests including reading, disc golf, and watching documentaries. He plays many instruments comprising of piano, saxophone, guitar, clarinet, and ukulele. Muir is a member of the Highland Park Marching Band, Pep Band, Wind Ensemble, and a saxophone quartet. He spends many of his Friday afternoons teaching young aspiring saxophonists the basics of the saxophone. Muir is an only child but has three stepbrothers and his family has hosted five exchange students who he considers family. He enjoys traveling and has been to 25 U.S. states, plus Italy, Great Britain, Israel, Spain, and most recently Puerto Rico. Muir enrolled in Miami Summer Scholars Journalism module because he enjoys hearing and sharing others’ stories.