By Wendy Sarubbi | March 20, 2015 9:48 am

Dr. Ken Teter was inspired to be a scientist during his freshman year of college when he had the opportunity to research plant biology. That hands-on lab experience “lit a fire in me,” he says, and as an associate professor at the College of Medicine’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, Dr. Teter is dedicated to providing students of all ages with similar opportunities.

His educational, service and research efforts earned him a prestigious 2015 UCF “Reach for the Stars Award” that will be presented during Founders Day activities in April. Last year was the first time UCF President John C. Hitt made the awards, designed to recognize a small number of early-career professionals for their outstanding research or creative endeavors. Those selected receive a $10,000 annual research grant for three years, which can be renewed.

As a research scientist, Dr. Teter’s lab focuses on how infections impact human health. In particular, he is examining the molecular details of how cholera toxin disrupts cellular functions. If scientists can discover how cholera toxin enters the body, they can devise ways to slam the door on those entryways, he says. Cholera is an acute infection of the intestine that is spread by contaminated water and food and kills nearly 100,000 people across the world a year.

The importance of Dr. Teter’s research is evidenced by the fact that as a young faculty member, he has four federal grants – three from the National Institutes of Health, “which clearly illustrates his competitiveness and national reputation for outstanding research,” said Dr. Griffith Parks, director of the Burnett School, in his nomination letter.

Dr. Teter said using research to encourage students at all levels – high school through Ph.D. – is necessary in creating tomorrow’s healthcare leaders because they need hands-on experiences to go with the science they get from lectures and books. His role, he says, is to determine the level of scientific work each student is capable of doing, assign them an appropriate project and then “challenge them to do more after their initial success. It’s like a video game…When you get your hands dirty, it really reinforces what you’ve learned because now you have to apply it.”

Dr. Teter’s career at UCF shows the vast array of learning experience he has offered young scientists. He currently has two Ph.D. students in his lab and has graduated four Ph.D. students and four M.S. students. He has sponsored research projects for 33 UCF undergraduates who co-authored three publications and contributed to eight poster presentations at national meetings. He also has sponsored science fair projects for six local high school students. They co-authored six publications, contributed to four poster presentations at national meetings and together have received a total of 62 local, state and national science fair awards.

“Dr. Teter embodies excellence not only in research and education but also in service to his profession, university, college/school and community,” said Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UCF College of Medicine.

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