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Postbaccalaureate research fellowship begins its second year for recent STEM undergrads

Two new Research Scholars have embarked on a one-year postbaccalaureate fellowship program designed to facilitate young, promising, STEM undergraduates from diverse backgrounds

06 September 2022

Portrait of two research scholars Vellon and Shores

The 2022 Stowers Research Scholars, Andreas Frias Vellon and Taylor Shores.

Two new Research Scholars have embarked on a one-year postbaccalaureate fellowship at the Stowers Institute, the second year of this ambitious program designed to facilitate young, promising, STEM undergraduates from diverse backgrounds toward pursuing higher education research opportunities.

The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research (GSSIMR), led by Dean Matt Gibson, Ph.D., and Assistant Dean Jinelle Wint, Ph.D., created a one-year fellowship for recent undergraduates to have hands-on experience in scientific exploration and discovery. In June of 2021, the first class joined the Stowers Research Scholars program. The goal of the program is to give students from traditionally underrepresented communities a mentored experience to foster, prepare, and diversify the next generation of biologists, and to provide real-life research experience to help the scholars decide if a career in research is the right path.

Class of 2021 Research Scholars. Helena Raposo, Shanaika Vargas Rivera, Enya Dewars, and Brenda Sanchez (from left to right).

“The postbac program creates a critical new training opportunity at Stowers for recent college graduates from historically marginalized and underrepresented groups,” said Gibson. “By providing each class of Stowers Research Scholars with intensive research training and focused mentorship, we aim to serve as a launchpad for their careers in science.”

As we welcome the newest Research Scholars, we also say farewell to members of the inaugural class - Enya Dewars, Brenda Sanchez, Shanaika Vargas Rivera, and Helena Raposo - who recently capped their experiences in Stowers labs with the very first Research Scholars Symposium held on June 10, 2022.

Dewars, who earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, spent the past year studying in the lab of Alejandro Sánchez Alvarado, Ph.D. At the start of the fellowship, she was interested in cancer and stem cell research and hoped that the program would lead not only to increased opportunities for graduate school applications but for the multi-disciplinary learning opportunities from Stowers Technology Centers. After a successful year studying spatial transcriptomics of planaria in the Sánchez Alvarado lab, Dewars recently joined a Ph.D. program at Duke University.

Also hailing from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is Sanchez who spent her fellowship in the lab of Ron Yu, Ph.D., where she studied the mammalian olfactory system. She earned her undergraduate degree in biology and was the first college graduate in her family. Sanchez values the accelerated research experience and the networking opportunities the Institute provided. She recently began her Ph.D. studies at the University of Virginia.

Vargas Rivera earned a bachelor’s degree in biotechnology in Puerto Rico and spent her fellowship year studying in the labs of Ariel Bazzini, Ph.D., and Nick Rohner, Ph.D. She performed research studying metabolic adaptations in cavefish and will continue as a research technician at a different institution.

Raposo, who earned a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering with a minor in biology from Oregon State University, also completed her fellowship in the Yu Lab. She will continue as a research technician in the Gibson Lab and has future plans to pursue an MD/Ph.D.

Portrait of research scholar Sanchez

Brenda Sanchez preparing to centrifuge samples in the Yu Lab.

"It was really incredible to watch the success of our inaugural class and see how each student grew throughout the year. More than any specific outcome, we hope their time at Stowers provided them a strong foundation for the next step in their careers,” said Gibson.

On June 6, 2022, Taylor Shores and Andrea Frias Vellon began their fellowships. During her undergraduate studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, she spent three years as a research assistant in the lab of Ryan Mohan, Ph.D., where she explored increasing the efficacy of cloning gene primers. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a minor in chemistry. For the duration of her fellowship, Shores will work in the Yu Lab and focus on neuron interactions in the brain. She hopes to gain a more thorough understanding of research in molecular and neurobiology and plans to pursue a Ph.D. in biology and a career in academia.

Frias Vellon earned an undergraduate degree in marine biology with a minor in criminology from Florida Southern College where she performed research on the effects of microplastics and temperature in venom production in the sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis. She will spend her fellowship in the Gibson Lab and hopes to continue working with Nematostella and learn more advanced biology techniques. Following her fellowship, Frias Vellon plans to pursue a Ph.D. or explore an alternative career path, like working in an aquarium, that will allow her to collaborate with researchers from different universities and institutes.

We had a remarkable first year of the program and I would like to continue that momentum for the second year. I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to direct this essential program. My previous experience in diversity fellowships have helped shaped this program and we ensure that each Research Scholar has a dedicated in lab mentor coupled with academic mentorship. Our Research Scholars get the added benefits of relocation assistance, temporary housing upon arrival, a MacBook laptop computer, and conference allowance. I’m excited for the second year of the program and look forward to entering another application cycle,” said Wint.

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