Phi Beta Kappa

Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar


Muskan Walia Named Phi Beta Kappa Society Scholar.

Muskan Walia, a second-year student at the University of Utah Honors College, studying math
and philosophy, has been named a Key into Public Service Scholar by the Phi Beta Kappa Society. The Society is the nation’s most prestigious academic honor society, and the Key into Public Service award highlights specific pathways for arts and sciences graduates to launch public sector careers.

Chosen from nearly 900 applicants attending Phi Beta Kappa chapter institutions across the nation, the Key into Public Service Scholars hail from 17 states. These are high-achieving college sophomores and juniors, who display notable breadth and depth in their academic interests.

“I am extremely grateful and honored to be receiving this award from Phi Beta Kappa,” said Walia. “My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector. I am excited for the incredible opportunity to further explore this interest this summer.”

Walia is an ACCESS Scholar and undergraduate researcher, working with Dr. Fred Adler, Professor of Biology and of Mathematics. In her research, Walia adapted an epidemiological SIR model for spread of disease to model the number of cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to predict when different types of tests will produce false positives or false negatives.

“My summer in the ACCESS Scholars program sparked an interest and motivation to pursue a career in public service,” she said. “Being taught by faculty across the University of Utah in diverse disciplines, I learned about the intersections of science, communication, and policy and how scientists can practice the art of advocacy.

 

Muskan Walia

"My community here at the University of Utah has provided me with a prodigious liberal arts and sciences education and has nurtured my interest in exploring the dynamics between science, society, and the public sector."

 

“Working under the mentorship of Dr. Fred Adler has been invaluable. I wanted to be engaged in mathematics research that centered on justice and informed public policy. There was truly no better pairing than with Dr. Adler. He has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my curiosity and passion to utilize mathematics principles to tackle the most pressing social justice related questions of our time.”

In addition to her studies, Walia currently serves as the ASUU student government Senate Chair and works as a youth environmental organizer in the Salt Lake City area. She founded a campaign to commit her local school district to a 100% clean electricity transition by 2030, and has assisted with the expansion of local clean energy campaigns in Utah school districts. She is also a leader and mentor at Utah Youth Environmental Solutions Network (UYES), where she supports the development of a new youth-based climate justice curriculum. Her experiences have cultivated a passion and commitment to community building, climate education, and environmental justice.

Each Key into Public Service Scholar will receive a $5,000 undergraduate scholarship and take part in a conference in late June in Washington, D.C. to provide them with training, mentoring, and reflection on pathways into active citizenship.

Below are the names of the 2022 Key into Public Service Scholars and their chapter institutions:

Aylar AtadurdyyevaUniversity of Kansas
Miguel Coste, University of Notre Dame
Noelle Dana, University of Notre Dame
Grace Dowling, Clark University
Brandon Folson, Loyola University Chicago
Justin Fox, University of Maryland- College Park
Sora Heo, University of California - San Diego
Alec Hoffman, Clark University
Samiha Islam, State University of New York at Buffalo
Ruthie Kesri, Duke University
Katherine Marin, University of Florida
Sondos Moursy, University of Houston
Olivia Negro, Ursinus College
Emily Geigh Nichols, Stanford University
Paul Odu, University of Missouri
Vaidehi Persad, University of South Florida
Diba Seddighi, University of Tennessee
James Suleyman, Roanoke College
Jonah Tobin, Williams College
Muskan WaliaUniversity of Utah
For more information about the scholarship and links to individual biographies of the recipients, please visit pbk.org/KeyintoPublicService.

 

by Michele Swaner, first published at math.utah.edu.

 

Savannah Romney

Savannah Romney

Savannah Romney is a double-major in biology and math at the University of Utah.

Savannah participated in the ACCESS Scholars scholarship program for entering first-year students who are dedicated to expanding science education to all sectors of our society, including to women who traditionally have had a harder time breaking “the glass ceiling.” She appears to have shattered that ceiling (so wear your shoes … there’s glass everywhere!)

A Utah native, Savannah commutes to school every day from Draper where she works in the Parkinson lab studying e-coli.

“During my ACCESS year, I have gained confidence in my abilities as a student, leader and scientist,” she says. Savannah talks about how ACCESS connected her with peers who share her passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and learning in general. The ACCESS network now includes “Some of my best friends!” she says.

She reminds young people who are considering a university education that life at the U is “fast paced, so balancing academics with your personal life is so important.”

Her favorite ACCESS social was the Star Party at the U’s observatory atop the physics building where the night sky is brought into high relief for researchers and students alike.

“While transitioning to college can be intimidating,” she says, it is comforting to know you are not alone. ACCESS Scholars connected me with the very best advisors, mentors, and peers/friends I could ever hope for!”

To conclude, she says that “if you’re passionate about STEM and want to enhance your college experience, ACCESS Scholars is for you!”

 

by David Pace, first published @biology.utah.edu

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown


Audrey Brown

“One of the biggest things that helped me was connecting with my loved ones.”

When the pandemic first emerged in early 2020 Audrey Brown, HBS’21, found that online classes were novel at first, “but I quickly found myself losing motivation and becoming depressed/anxious due to the day-to-day Zoom monotony and the never-ending doomsday news on social media.” As part of the covid or Zoom college generation, Brown could have put her academic career on hold, pivoted away from a college education… in short given up. But several supportive people, programs and institutions helped her navigate through this singular moment.

“One of the biggest things that helped me early on, the Bountiful native says, “was focusing on connecting with my loved ones. Even something so simple as getting out of my house to go on a walk with my mom was a huge help. I also had to learn to let go of things that were out of my control, and disconnect from the news that was feeding into my anxieties.” Needless to say, those anxieties extended beyond the coronavirus pandemic and included political and social strife unlike most of us can remember in the United States. Then there were challenges from the natural world: a devastating windstorm and the earthquake of 2020.

Aside from family, Brown found support from a bevy of awards and scholarships through the University, College and School of Biological Sciences. Yes, financial help was important, but so was the acknowledgment that came with awards like the AChemS Award for Undergraduate Research, Association for Chemoreception Sciences, 2020; the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program Scholar award (UROP); and an Independent REU project award, Department of Mathematics where Brown had matriculated along with her major in biology.

A four-year Presidential scholarship, a Utah Regent’s Scholarship and a College of Science Dean’s scholarship both facilitated and rewarded her achievements, culminating in her graduation with honors, magna cum laude. She even received a marching band performance scholarship during the 2018/19 academic year.

The ACCESS cohort.

Another scholarship, however, was just the tip of an iceberg of networking opportunities and a kind of mentoring that can help young women in STEM, like Brown. That program was ACCESS Scholars, a College of Science initiative now in its thirty-fifth year that represents women and individuals from all dimensions of diversity who embody the program values of excellence, leadership, and gender equity.
Brown claims that the program “jumpstarted my research career and increased my appreciation for science as a whole.” The summer after graduating high school she took an interdisciplinary STEM course which introduced her to diverse scientific topics and where she gained an appreciation for the vast amount of research done at the University of Utah.

Today, she has stayed closely involved with the program and has served as a teaching assistant (TA), mentor, and curriculum developer. The ACCESS program places each student in a research lab where they gain firsthand scientific experience by completing a personal research project. Brown was placed with Dr. Alla Borisyuk, a professor in the Department of Mathematics, and studied the olfactory system. This was done in collaboration with and using the data from the Wachowiak lab at the University of Utah, a lab she joined a couple years later, and stayed in for the remainder of her undergraduate career. “I’m forever grateful that I had the opportunity to be exposed to research early on. I quickly fell in love with it and am excited to continue as I work on my PhD.”

That’s right. Brown is now a candidate for her doctorate in biology. She is just finishing up a rotation in which she gains experience in three different labs before deciding where she will spend the remainder of her career as a graduate student.

And the pandemic, of course, has turned into an endurance test for everyone, including Brown. Two years in and she’s added to her repertoire of coping mechanisms. “I try to remind myself of all the positive things that have happened in my life over these past two years, some of which (ironically) never would have happened if the world hadn’t shut down. Rather than dwell on what might have been, I’ve been pushing myself to look for the positives and be grateful for the good in my life. I think that my advice for anyone struggling to find motivation due to the pandemic (or otherwise) would be to focus on finding positives in life, and in connecting with the people in your own circle of influence.”

"I still play the flute as often as I can"

Brown also finds solace and refuge in music. She plays the flute and the piano. “Music is still one of my favorite hobbies, so I intend to make it a part of my future, though I am no longer in any formal ensembles. I still enjoy playing the flute as often as I can and learning new pieces. I have several family members that also play the flute and I enjoy playing with them on occasion. And I am constantly listening to music of all different genres.’

When she’s not rotating through a variety of Molecular, Cellular and Evolutionary Biology labs, she reads. She recently completed “A Pocket Full of Rye” by Agatha Christie, and “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones, later made into a celebrated animated film. “Currently, I’m reading ‘Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst’ by Robert Sapolsky, in order to scratch a non-fiction itch I’ve had for a while.” But she concedes along with a whole generation (or two), “My favorite book(s) are the Harry Potter series. I’ve read them several times. They are my ‘go-to’ when I have run out of other things to read.”

Brown considers her grandfather to be her inspiration, even her hero. “My grandfather spent most of his career working for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research service. He worked on broadening the genetic basis of sugar beet crops by breeding hybrids from wild sugar beet strains.” At the time, the genetic basis for most sugar beet crops was very narrow, making them susceptible to diseases and changing environmental conditions. “His goal was to develop strains with increased disease resistance,” Brown says, “and increased sugar yield. He also investigated the possibility of developing a ‘fuel beet’—a hybrid sugar beet used for making bioethanol.”

The legacy of a grandfather’s example and hard scientific work may not be genetically passed on to a grandchild, but it is, nevertheless, deeply influential for Audrey Brown as the first year of graduate school closes in.

By David Pace, first published @ biology.utah.edu

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Sonia Sehgal

Sonia Sehgal

 

U Biology's Sonja Sehgal accepted a Beckman Scholarship this past spring to add to the trove of awards that were already sitting on her academic “mantle” at home. Collective kudos include a Biology Research Scholars Award, a College of Science Scholarship and a Utah Flagship Scholarship.

The Beckman, however, is a step up from her other awards. It represents an unprecedented opportunity, perhaps found nowhere else, in which an undergraduate researcher can hone her craft at the bench and under extraordinary mentorship. The program is a 15-month, mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemical and biological sciences, and Martin Horvath, associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences, will serve as her mentor. (Rory Weeks, undergraduate in the Department of Chemistry is the second U Beckman Scholar for 2020-21.) Each scholar receives a $21,000 research stipend to facilitate nine academic calendar months and two three-month summers of research experience. Recipients from around the nation participate in the prestigious Beckman Symposium each summer with one another. Their research began in June 2020 and will conclude in August 2021.

“I started out as a freshman in the ACCESS,” the biology senior explains, referring to the decades-long program hosted by the College of Science Program for Women in Math and Science. “Through this program, I was able to explore various fields in STEM which really kick-started my interest in pursuing biology! Joining the Horvath Lab further sparked my curiosity and has shown me that science goes beyond the stereotypical image of a “scientist.”

Tracking toward a career in medicine

Sonia Sehgal (undergraduate, Biology Research Scholar, Beckman Research Scholar) and Martin Horvath discuss the structure of MutY

Sonia Sehgal (undergraduate, Biology Research Scholar, Beckman Research Scholar) and Martin Horvath discuss the structure of MutY.

Sehgal is far from stereotypical, as a scientist or as an undergraduate. As a woman she knows that she’s in the minority as she works through her academic career and finally a professional career in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics). As a complement to her academic career, the Sandy, Utah native has found a job as a University Ambassador. “The ambassadors work closely with the Office of Admissions to share our experience and bring a personal perspective to prospective U of U students,” she says. “When not giving tours or working recruitment events, we can be found having a good time with each other or,” she quips, “practicing walking backwards.”

Though Sehgal finds herself walking backwards while giving tours, she is definitely moving forward in her academic career. “I’m excited to continue doing research and I also plan on attending medical school after graduation. I want to learn about the various mechanisms that can cause diseases to present themselves in different forms across individuals. I want to use this platform to relay these findings with patients and create more representation in the field to strive for a more trusting and effective patient interaction.”

But before medical school, there’s research to be done, a focus in undergraduate education in the SBS that has arguably become the School’s signature.  “In the Horvath lab,” Sehgal explains about her work, MUTYH is a DNA repair enzyme commonly related to diseases like cancer. I am currently finding the role of different biological probes to see how they can affect the activity of this enzyme. Learning more about regulating the activity of MUTYH will allow us to create better drug-targeting systems for cancer in the future.” What most people, even the scientifically-inclined, may not know about the model subject Sehgal is studying is that the MutY enzyme can be found in almost every living organism, yet there is still a lot we don’t know about it.

Hangin' out.

That’s something that inspires rather than discourages Sehgal who will graduate with her BS in 2021. With the help of the Beckman Scholarship, the mentorship of Horvath and the broad view of higher education she gets by being an ambassador, Sehgal finds her future as she tracks toward a career in medicine, promising. And true of all of accomplished undergraduate researchers of Sehgal’s stripe, she is poised for far more awards, and accomplishments.

“The Beckman experience has been going well,” she reports. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first stage has been virtual. I have been working on coding and molecular docking. However, I look forward to getting into the lab next semester and start testing!” Of Sehgal Horvath adds, "Sonia has a gift for finding a simple clear question to address in her science. She will go far. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to work with her these past years."

Asked what her interests and “likes” she doesn’t stray very far from her time in the lab. She likes rock climbing, dogs … and getting positive results for polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method widely used to rapidly make millions to billions of copies of a specific DNA sample.

It’s the sort of thrill that allows a budding scientist, like Sonia Sehgal, to take a very small sample of DNA and amplify it to a large enough amount to study in detail.

Beckman Abstract

  • "Finding the role of biological probes on MUTYH activity,"(S. Sehgal)
    DNA damage is implicated in many cancers, such as colorectal cancer. One form of this damage occurs when guanine becomes oxidized to form 8-oxoguanine (OG). MUTYH is a base excision repair (BER) enzyme in humans that excises adenine (A) at OG:A lesions in DNA and thus prevents mutations that may arise after rounds of replication. Interestingly, both inhibition and overactivation of MUTYH can contribute to cancer-causing activity. In this project, MUTYH will be studied through computational modeling and an activity assay to find biological probes that can bind to the protein and affect its function. These probes can later be tested in animal models and may serve as the foundation for anticancer drug discovery. In addition, through analyzing the effect of biological probes on this enzyme, the BER pathway and the dual role of MUTYH in preventing and causing cancer can be further understood. Use of these probes to control MUTYH activity and BER overall can aid with creating more efficient drug targeting systems for cancer treatment in the future.

 

 

by David Pace

 

 

Goldwater Winner

Lydia Fries

Lydia Fries awarded prestigious Goldwater Scholarship.

The College of Science is pleased to announce that Lydia Fries has been awarded a Goldwater Scholarship for 2020-21.

As a junior in chemistry, Lydia intends to obtain a Ph.D. in either organic chemistry or electrochemistry. She has done research in both Matt Sigman’s and Shelley Minteer’s groups, and Lydia is an author on two papers with both professors. She has worked on a variety of projects involving electrochemistry, palladium catalysis, and computationally focused projects. As an undergraduate she enrolls in many graduate-level courses and is a Teaching Assistant for Organic Spectroscopy I. Lydia was accepted to REU programs this summer, but has committed to an internship at Genentech and hopes that the current pandemic will have subsided by the time her internship is to begin mid-May.

With encouragement from high school teachers, Lydia followed her passion and her strong aptitude for STEM subjects, and ignored the warnings from her broader community that she shouldn’t pursue such an expensive and “useless” degree. She followed her heart and her brain to the University of Utah where she landed in the ACCESS program and was immediately surrounded by many intelligent and motivated women.

In addition to her studies, Lydia enjoys rock climbing and spending time outdoors, and is currently staying at safe at home in St. George.

The Goldwater Scholarship

As the result of a partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), Mrs. Peggy Goldwater Clay, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, announced that the Trustees of the Goldwater Board have increased the number of Goldwater scholarships it has awarded for the 2020-2021 academic year to 396 college students from across the United States. “As it is vitally important that the Nation ensures that it has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security, we saw partnering with the Goldwater Foundation as a way to help ensure the U.S. is developing this talent,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Director of the NDEP program, as he explained the partnership. With the 2020 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 9047 and a scholarship total to over $71M.

From an estimated pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1343 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 461 academic institutions to compete for the 2020 Goldwater scholarships. Of students who reported, 191 of the Scholars are men, 203 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Fifty Scholars are mathematics and computer science majors, 287 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 59 are majoring in engineering. Many of the Scholars have published their research in leading journals and have presented their work at professional society conferences.

Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 93 Rhodes Scholarships, 146 Marshall Scholarships, 170 Churchill Scholarships, 109 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

 

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on November 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

 

by Anne Marie Vivienne,
Chemistry News - 03/30/2020

Ana Rosas

Ana Rosas


Every student’s story is one-of-a-kind, and Ana Rosas’ is no exception.

Rosas’ desire to become a doctor was deeply personal. She recalls her grandmother dying just one month after being diagnosed with untreatable and advanced liver cancer. “During my grieving, I thought about what, if anything, could have been done to prolong” her grandmother’s life. Was the late diagnosis due to her grandmother’s Hispanic heritage? Her community’s mistrust of physicians? Socio-economic barriers? “Though I was provided with encouragements,” she wrote in her recent application to medical school, including from select teachers at local Cottonwood High School, “I was also independently driven to learn and become equipped with tools needed to one day give back to my community.”

Ana arrived as a one-year-old in the United States with her mother and aunt, both of whom had been doctors in their native Colombia. But neither woman was eligible to practice medicine in the U.S. Instead, these two single mothers focused on raising their children. Being in a country that unexpectedly eliminated her career did not keep Ana's mother from sharing her expertise. Rosas remembers her mother conducting a hands-on anatomy class with a pig's head on the dining room table, even introducing surgical procedures.

At the University of Utah as a biology major intent on going to medical school, Rosas quickly realized that she didn’t have the same resources or opportunities, finding that she was on her own to navigate, for example, finding a lab to do research. She didn’t know anyone in the health sciences. Seventy emails later she landed in Dr. Albert Park’s lab at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City where she worked with her team to better remove laryngeal cysts in infants. The learning curve was steep: literature reviews, in-text citations, and continually managing her share of “imposter syndrome” that started as early as high school where she was a minority. Her work with Park resulted in her presenting a poster at a national Otolaryngology meeting and a first authorship in a related prestigious international journal. “I have not had many undergraduates achieve so much in such a short time,” Park says of Rosas.

Now a senior at the School of Biological Sciences, Rosas has been busy working in not one but two labs. With Kelly Hughes she works with bacteria, specifically Salmonella, and focuses on identifying the secretion signal for a regulatory protein that is required for proper flagellar formation. “I mutagenize the protein,” she says, “by incorporating random amino acid substitutions at each amino acid position of the protein.” Along the way she looks for colonies that are defective. “This way I can send those colonies for sequencing and obtain data that can tell what amino acids are essential for the proper secretion of the protein” under study.

Her second lab experience with Robert C. Welsh in the School of Medicine's Department of Psychiatry brings Rosas' career ambitions back full circle to her heritage and her desire to give back to her community, which is often under-served by the medical profession and under-represented in institutions of higher learning. Using imaging equipment, she and her colleagues are developing a diagnostic and prognostic tool to determine where ALS (Alzheimer’s) patients are in the progression of the disease. Related to that is lab work of another kind. In the “engagement studio” at University Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI) she is gathering feedback from minority groups to see what obstacles—from language barriers to mistrust of medical authorities–impact their participation in research. “We want to figure out what researchers can do to encourage their cooperation,” she says.

At the same time, while demonstrating that she’s not only successfully balancing on that once precipitous learning curve, Rosas has demonstrated that she’s clearly ahead of it. Currently she is treasurer of the InSTEM group on campus and has helped initiate the new Health Sciences LEAP program which does science outreach in high schools. “I want to help minorities like me,” says Rosas, “better navigate college for the first few years.”  Tanya Vickers who directs the ACCESS program for the College of Science, is most certain she will do exactly that, referring to Rosas as a “remarkable young woman.”

Rosas has indeed come a long way from anatomy lessons on her mother’s kitchen table. Applying to medical schools has provided the chance to reflect on her journey and, considering the barriers and uncertainty she first felt, that journey has proven to be an auspicious one.

 

by David G. Pace

Alex Acuna

Alex Acuna


Alexandra “Alex” Acuna doesn’t even remember her native Venezuela, as she arrived in the U.S. with her parents and two older siblings when she was just a few weeks old. She does recall as a young child huddling in a room for seven months with other families experiencing homelessness at the Road Home Shelter in Salt Lake City where her closest ally was “Mike Wazowski,” a ratty, single-eyed monster toy she hugged day and night.

Eventually, the family moved into a basement apartment with two other families before landing more permanently in government-subsidized housing. “There were a lot of points in our childhood when my siblings and I were skating on thin ice,” she says, referencing everything from food and housing insecurity to fear of deportation; from the stigma of not being part of the majority Latinx community to almost yearly changes in schools. To make matters worse, her parents separated shortly after the family’s arrival. “Survival took up all of our time,” she says.

There was one stabilizing force for the family: food and the community that comes with each cuisine. It started in their modest apartment kitchen with her mother selling empanadas, a cottage industry that grew to a full-fledged Venezuelan restaurant that, in 2014, opened in Salt Lake.

Acuna’s mother, whose college experience was derailed in Venezuela by her first pregnancy, was determined to make sure her children got to the best public schools possible. Even so, as Acuna puts it, once at the UofU she experienced what so many first-generation students do: “I had no access to people who understood the system I was trying to navigate. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I didn’t know where to look for resources.”

The College of Science’s Access Program was a life ring. Not only did it provide Acuna a scholarship, but a first-year cohort with older students along with housing during the summer before her first year so that she could familiarize herself with campus life. Another important component of the program directed by Tanya Vickers was getting into a lab, something Acuna admits “was not even on my radar.” In Leslie Sieburth’s lab at the School of Biological Sciences Acuna became embedded in a community: “How do you bridge the gap in knowledge,” she asks, “without a network of people?” The answer is you probably don’t, especially with Acuna’s background and lack of opportunities that many college-bound students take for granted.

For three years, Acuna fought self-doubt during “the worst of times” that she was somehow an intruder, a forever-outsider who didn’t belong in a lab that, frankly, she wasn’t even sure the value of. “Tanya was a great mentor,” she says now of Vickers, acknowledging that her mentor helped her see that, while her mother needed her to work in the restaurant, Acuna needed to prioritize her education, a difficult thing to do when you’ve been a character in a shared survival narrative as intense as theirs.

Eventually, the school/work balance was struck. “My mother was never a helicopter mom. But she sees me in the trenches and can now share the glory of it with me.” (Acuna still works weekends in the restaurant, patronized by the flowering Venezuelan community and others in Utah’s capital city.)

Says Sieburth of Acuna, “Alex joined my lab with an enormous amount of raw talent. It was a pleasure to mentor her, and to help her recognize her remarkable facility for research.”

An opportunity seized soon presents other opportunities. In February 2019, Acuna was admitted to the inaugural year of the Genomics Summer Research for Minorities sponsored by the U’s medical school. Currently, she does research in the Tristani-Firouzi lab where the gene-editing and cloning of plants she was doing with Sieburth are now placed for this budding molecular biologist into a medical and physiological context. In the Tristani lab they are studying the genetic component of atrial fibrillation, one of the most common types of cardiac arrhythmia. “It’s given me power to things that I wasn’t even aware of before coming here,” says a grinning Acuna.

What’s next for Alex Acuna? “I know that I’m definitely moving on,” she says of her career as a scientist. “I’m just not clear what direction: academics or medical school.” As a paid undergraduate research assistant, though, one thing she is sure about: “I’ve found a sustainable model. These worlds–personal and professional–they could combine [after all]. They did combine. I understand my ambition, and I now have such sensitivity to activities outside of the lab.”

For Acuna and her family, who are now naturalized citizens of the U.S., their experience is not just an immigrant story of survival; it’s an incomplete narrative born in Venezuela and perpetually vectoring toward real promise.

Sahar Kanishka

Sahar Kanishka


Biology student, ACCESS member, College of Science Association for Women in STEM member, and recipient of an undergraduate research scholarship funded by alumnus, Ryan Watts (BS'2000 and founder of Denali Therapeutics), Sahar Kanishka is a force in the Utah student community.

Major: Biology
Year: Sophomore
Lab: Gagnon Lab
Hometown: Salt Lake City, Utah
Interests: Studying anatomy, swimming, watching movies, hiking

What do you love about your research?
Being able to control the temporal aspect of CRISPR genome editing would allow for editing to occur during any stage of embryonic development. We have not been able to optimize temporal control of editing with small molecule regulation, but we are testing to see if genomic editing is occurring.

Tell us something about your research:
Zebrafish are capable of rapid tissue regeneration!

Describe attending the UofU?
The ACCESS program is amazing. I love that the U is a big campus. There are so many resources for students, places to explore, and people to meet just on campus.

What are your dreams for a career, research?
In the future, I plan on attending medical school and open clinics where resources are scarce. I plan on pursuing an MBA to give me the tools in operating clinics. I also plan on continuing research throughout my career!

How have the scholarships you’ve received assisted you?
This scholarship has been very important in my academic endeavors, and being able to continue my education. I am grateful to the donors for being supportive of my research and for investing in education.

 

Rachel Cantrell

2019 Goldwater Recipient


A 2019 Goldwater Scholarship has been awarded to Rachel Cantrell, a junior majoring in chemistry.

Cantrell has maintained a near perfect GPA while working in professor Ryan E. Looper's laboratories on orthogonal projects. She lists her mentors as, Stefan Schulz, Ryan LooperJon SegerMatthew NelliMarkus MenkeChelsea HarmonCody Bender, and Autumn Amici.

Rachel plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry, with the overall goal of becoming a research and teaching professor.
 

THE GOLDWATER SCHOLARSHIP


As the result of a partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs (NDEP), Mrs. Peggy Goldwater Clay, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, announced that the Trustees of the Goldwater Board have increased the number of Goldwater scholarships it has awarded for the 2020-2021 academic year to 396 college students from across the United States. “As it is vitally important that the Nation ensures that it has the scientific talent it needs to maintain its global competitiveness and security, we saw partnering with the Goldwater Foundation as a way to help ensure the U.S. is developing this talent,” said Dr. Jagadeesh Pamulapati, Director of the NDEP program, as he explained the partnership. With the 2020 awards, this brings the number of scholarships awarded since 1989 by the Goldwater Foundation to 9047 and a scholarship total to over $71M.

From an estimated pool of over 5,000 college sophomores and juniors, 1343 natural science, engineering and mathematics students were nominated by 461 academic institutions to compete for the 2020 Goldwater scholarships. Of students who reported, 191 of the Scholars are men, 203 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their highest degree objective. Fifty Scholars are mathematics and computer science majors, 287 are majoring in the natural sciences, and 59 are majoring in engineering. Many of the Scholars have published their research in leading journals and have presented their work at professional society conferences.

Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 93 Rhodes Scholarships, 146 Marshall Scholarships, 170 Churchill Scholarships, 109 Hertz Fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards like the National Science Foundation Graduate Research.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on November 14, 1986. The Scholarship Program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the fields of the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship is the preeminent undergraduate award of its type in these fields.