Dr. Samuel Prien: A Medical Mentor
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Dr. Samuel Prien: A Medical Mentor

Through his appointment in OB-GYN and Animal and Food Sciences, Prien teaches students at all levels a love for research.

Written by Suzanna Cisneros

Sultenfuss and Hubbard both began working in Prien's lab as undergraduates.

Sultenfuss and Hubbard both began working in Prien’s lab as undergraduates.

While classroom learning is an important aspect of undergraduate education, Samuel Prien, Ph.D., has another idea – bring undergraduate students to the research lab and give them a hands-on research experience.

Prien is dually appointed as a professor at the TTUHSC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where he teaches medical students, residents and graduate students, does research, and also at Texas Tech with the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, where he teaches, does research and directs an active graduate program.

He served as the sole embryologist in the in vitro fertilization program for 25 years and the director of all OB-GYN clinical labs for the last 13 years. During that time, he also has maintained an active research program, with almost $2 million in funded research. He also holds three U.S. patents and has other intellectual properties, which are headed toward commercialization and everyday use.

Sharing a Love

But his love of teaching is what makes Prien most proud. As an expert in the world of assisted reproductive technologies, a common technology for humans and animals, his teaching methodology is simple. Undergraduate students exposed to research, Prien hopes, gain a deeper understanding of the scientific process and develop a love of research.

Prien has also been involved with the Honors College teaching an honor’s version of reproductive physiology for the last 10 years. Through this collaboration, Honors College students have given Prien another role of research mentor. Many undergraduate students have received multiple awards for their research. Several of these same students have continued on to Prien’s graduate program and are among the 30 students he has guided to their master’s degrees or Ph.D. as their committee chair.

Lauren Hubbard, a graduate student in the Texas Tech Department of Animal and Food Sciences, worked as an undergraduate student research assistant with Prien for almost two years and before continuing her master’s in Animal Science – Physiology.

“In all, I worked on some research projects almost four years in his lab,” Hubbard said. “The collaboration between his lab and Texas Tech is awesome.”

Hubbard’s research project was the development of a new inexpensive rate freezer for use in semen preservation. This research developed for the bovine cattle industry can improve pregnancy rates and is designed to be used directly by farmers or ranchers.

“Through this research opportunity, I learned what I wanted to do with my life,” Hubbard said. “Dr. Prien taught us to work hard, have fun when learning and to love research.”

Cody Sultenfuss took Prien’s class as an undergraduate in animal science.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I fell in love with this class,” Sultenfuss said. “I was asked if I wanted to do an undergraduate research project. Normally in an undergraduate lab, there is not a lot of hands-on experience. With Dr. Prien, he shows you to do the actual work. See it, duplicate it, and learn from it.”

Novel in its idea for a new method of thawing semen for use across all livestock species, Sultenfuss’ research project includes modifying and running different tests to meet standards for the insemination process, it replaces the water bath system currently used and provides the producer more flexible options and improves the efficiency in artificially inseminating livestock. This may have applications in humans as well.

“Because of my work in this lab, I am now hoping to later work on my Ph.D. in reproductive work,” Sultenfuss said. “Dr. Prien is so full of knowledge that some days I can’t absorb it all.”

On Another Level

With Prien's encouragement, Wessels, an undergraduate student, presented her research at a national level.

With Prien’s encouragement, Wessels, an undergraduate student, presented her research at a national level.

Students not only learn in the lab, but Prien encourages them to learn about others’ research, attend conferences and strive to get publications. Cara Wessels, an undergraduate student at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Texas Tech, presented her research at national meetings in San Diego and Seattle.

“What an experience to showcase my research at that level,” Wessels said. “I learned about Dr. Prien’s class when I took extra credit and attended a physiology conference where Lauren was presenting her research. It interested me and I had no idea what I was getting into. Dr. Prien is a great mentor. I love research a lot more. I had no idea this side existed.”

Prien said watching students learn and succeed is the overall reward. Graduate students recently completed the 25th Annual Student Research Week and poster competition. Hubbard, co-sponsored by the Department of OB-GYN, received the third place award in the Junior Basic Science Division. She also received the Outstanding Poster at the Agricultural Consortium of Texas Research Symposium.

Sultenfuss, along with Lindsay Penrose, Ph.D., and Prien, presented research at the National Association of Animal Breeders in Milwaukee. Sultenfuss was the only undergraduate to receive the 2012 NAAB travel award. Wessels, a Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute Scholar, recently traveled with Penrose to Austin to present the importance of research to legislators as Texas Tech’s representative to Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol.

Prien said the unique opportunities these undergraduate students have experienced have helped them see beyond the classroom to a future they may have with opportunities for graduate school and research career paths. For example, Wessels will be leaving soon to attend veterinary school, but also hopes to obtain a Ph.D. and continue research.

Prien has a sign over his door that reads, “No one can bestow the title mentor on themselves. It is a special title bestowed on us by others. A title once given, we must strive daily to deserve.”

“I have had the honor of a number of these individuals calling me their mentor,” Prien said. “I hope I can continue to earn the title.”

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The Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, located in Lubbock, Amarillo and Odessa, strives to provide unmatched care to patients, and the finest education to students.

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Since 1969, the School of Medicine has graduated more than 3,000 physicians. The school aims to provide quality lab space, recruit creative, innovative research faculty, and develop graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for lifelong careers in medical research.

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