Tag Archives: biochemistry

Four Top STEM Students Nominated for Goldwater Scholarship

LAUNCH: National Fellowships is proud to announce four nominees for the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program: junior biomedical engineering major with emphasis on biomaterials Mikayla Barry ’17, junior aerospace engineering major Maura Cadigan ‘17,  sophomore biomedical engineering major and neuroscience minor Kendal Ezell ’18, and sophomore biochemistry major Gabrielle Lessen ’18 .

The Goldwater Scholarship recognizes sophomores and juniors who are planning careers in STEM research. Fewer than 300 Goldwater Scholars are chosen from across the nation each year, so the scholarship is both prestigious and highly competitive. Candidates must demonstrate strong research experience, clear vision for a research career, and academic excellence in STEM coursework.

Mikayla Barry '17, 2016 Goldwater Nominee
Mikayla Barry ’17, 2016 Goldwater Nominee

Mikayla Barry is the first member of Texas A&M’s Beckman Scholars program. She conducts research in Dr. Melissa Grunlan’s Polymeric Biomaterials lab, developing coatings for silicone to prevent blood clots. This project could allow devices like catheters to remain implanted longer with a lower risk of infection and clot formation. Barry serves as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and volunteers at events like the Chemistry Open House, the Physics & Engineering Festival, and SEE Math Camps. She also plays piccolo in A&M’s Wind Symphony, creates stained glass, and runs long-distance. Barry intends to pursue a PhD in materials science and mentor undergraduates as a faculty member at a research university.

Barry explains that her proposed research project, as articulated in a detailed application essay, “would enhance the lifetime of extended wear contact lenses while reducing swelling and infections.” On the benefits of applying for the Goldwater Scholarship, she remarks, “The application process has helped me grow in my knowledge and motivation for learning.” Maura Cadigan, a fellow nominee, feels that the Goldwater “serves to recognize the hard work of students who have gone above and beyond what is required.”

Maura Cadigan '17, 2016 Goldwater Nominee
Maura Cadigan ’17, 2016 Goldwater Nominee

Cadigan currently serves as a technical consultant on a multinational research team as part of the Stanford U.S. Russia Forum. She is the first Aggie to be accepted into the program. Maura is also active in the Student Engineers Council, co-coordinating the Spring 2016 career fair, and is the mechanical team lead for the Women in Engineering’s first VEX robotics team. She works as a teaching assistant for ENGR 112 and hopes to pursue a graduate degree at a top technical school like Georgia Tech.

Kendal Ezell '18, 2016 Goldwater Nominee
Kendal Ezell ’18, 2016 Goldwater Nominee

For Kendal Ezell, the Goldwater Scholarship represents an opportunity to thank and give back to “the people who helped her to get to that point by providing opportunities and guidance.” Ezell has participated in Dr. Duncan Maitland’s Biomedical Device Laboratory since her second semester at Texas A&M. Her work in the lab has focused on cold plasma surface modifications of shape memory polymer devices and materials characterization, resulting in presentations at three research symposiums across the state and a second place award at the Pathways Symposium at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi. During the fall of 2015, Ezell joined Dr. Mark Packard in the Institute for Neuroscience to study memory in rats. Currently, Ezell is working with biotechnology companies in Germany during her study abroad there. In addition to her research, Ezell is an involved member of Kappa Alpha Theta, the Student Engineers’ Council, the American Medical Student Association, and Alpha Eta Mu Beta. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD in order to perform clinical research on neurotissue degradation and medical device design.

Gabrielle Lessen '18, 2016 Goldwater Nominee
Gabrielle Lessen ’18, 2016 Goldwater Nominee

Gabrielle Lessen is also nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship. She began research with the Michael E. DeBakey Undergraduate Research Scholars Program as a freshman, working under Dr. Christopher Quick and Dr. Thomas Stiles to model renal fluid dynamics. In spring 2015, Lessen was named a Beckman Research Scholar for Texas A&M, and through this program, she is currently conducting an independent research project on telomere biology in Dr. Dorothy Shippen’s lab. Lessen serves as an ambassador for the University Honors Program as one of the University Scholars, is involved in the Biochemistry and Genetics Society and National Aggie Scholar Ambassadors, and currently acts as the Development Director for the MSC L.T. Jordan Institute for International Awareness. She plans to pursue an MD/PhD and conduct cancer research.

Each of the nominees has greatly benefited from the support of dedicated faculty, research advisors, recommendation writers, and National Fellowships staff. Lessen, for example, extends a special thank you to Dr. Dorothy Shippen, Dr. Sumana Datta, Dr. Thomas Stiles, Dr. Ana Suescun, Adelia Humme, and Jamaica Pouncy. The National Fellowships program depends on faculty and staff to serve on nomination committees and to provide feedback on applications, and we appreciate all that they do to help us.

Since 2000, Texas A&M has produced 26 Goldwater Scholars. In the 2015 competition, genetics and biochemistry double-major Aaron Griffin ‘16 and biology major Erica Gacasan ‘16 were selected as Goldwater Scholars and Will Linz ’16 was named a Goldwater Honorable Mention. Other notable Aggie Goldwater Scholars include Rhodes Scholarship finalist Andrew Matteson ’08, Hertz Foundation Fellow Luke Hunter ’08, and National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship recipients Brian Sedio ’07 and Agustin Mohedas ‘07.

Best of luck to Mikayla, Maura, Kendal, and Gabby in the national Goldwater Scholarship competition!

If you would like to learn more about the Goldwater Scholarship, please see http://natlfellows.tamu.edu/National-Fellowships/About-National-Fellowships/Barry-Goldwater-Scholarship, or email natlfellows@tamu.edu for additional information about fellowship opportunities.


Three TAMU Students Recognized in Goldwater Competition

The Goldwater Scholarship is a competitive National Fellowship that recognizes students with outstanding potential who wish to pursue careers in STEM research and rewards them with a maximum of a $7500 scholarship to be used in the coming academic year. The 2015 Goldwater Scholars were selected from a pool of 1206 math, science and engineering majors nominated by faculty at top academic institutions for their outstanding academic achievement and research potential.

Three Texas A&M Students were recognized this past March for their outstanding academic achievements in biochemistry, biomedical engineering, and mathematics by the Goldwater Scholarship Foundation. Erica Gacasan, a ’16 biomedical engineering major, and Aaron Griffin, a ’16 biochemistry major, have been selected as Goldwater Scholars and William Linz, a ‘16 mathematics major, has been named a Goldwater Honorable Mention.

Female student with long dark hair in a maroon and white t-shirt
2015 Goldwater Scholar Erica Gacasan ’16

Gacasan, who has been developing artificial scaffolds for regenerating bone and cartilage with Dr. Melissa Grunlan in the department of Biomedical Engineering, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. Gacasan’s outstanding research and academic strength, including her role as a team leader for the Aggie Research Scholars Program, led to her selection as one of only 16 students to join the 2015 Biomedical Engineering Summer Internship Program at the National Institutes of Health. Gacasan’s remarkable research acumen and communication abilities resulted in her being chosen to represent TAMU undergraduate research at Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol in Austin and as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador here on campus. Gacasan has also participated in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program.

2015 Goldwater Scholar Aaron Griffin '16
2015 Goldwater Scholar Aaron Griffin ’16

Griffin, who has been researching the mechanisms of mitochondrial disease with Dr. Vishal Gohil in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, plans to pursue an M.D. and a Ph.D. in cancer cell biology after graduation. Griffin’s research activities and academic excellence, including his participation in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, led to his being selected for the 2014 Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award in Undergraduate Research for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Griffin has also taken on leadership positions as as the Co-Chair of the Explorations Executive Board where he oversees the process of proposal solicitation, article review and selection, editing, layout and publication of TAMU’s Undergraduate Journal and a 2015-2016 Undergraduate Research Ambassador where he will spread the word about the excitement of undergraduate research .

Male student with short dark hair and glasses, wearing a maroon polo shirt.
2015 Goldwater Honorable Mention William Linz ’16

Linz, who has been investigating the use of mathematics to model searching strategies through large volumes of data with Dr. Catherine Yan in the Department of Mathematics, plans to pursue a Ph. D. in mathematics. Linz’s unusual and complex insight into combinatorics has led to a publication in a professional peer-reviewed mathematics journal and successful completion of the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. His leadership and desire to communicate a love of science in general and mathematics in particular have been honed through his service as an Undergraduate Research Ambassador and a member of the Explorations Executive Board.

Current freshman and sophomores interested in applying for the 2016 Goldwater Scholarship should contact Jamaica Pouncy, Program Coordinator, National Fellowships and Honors Academic Advisor, jamaica.pouncy@tamu.edu.

HUR Staff Spotlight: Dr. Suma Datta

Honors and Undergraduate Research presents Dr. Suma Datta, our Executive Director. Dr. Datta coordinates with colleges, programs and centers across campus to improve existing HUR programming and develop new initiatives, she also serves as the HUR advisor for the Explorations journal and the coordinator for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship nomination process.

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Datta grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Honors degrees in Chemistry and in Cell and Molecular Biology. She participated in undergraduate research all four of her undergraduate years, culminating in a senior honors thesis. While at Michigan Dr. Datta also took on leadership positions with a student organization and organized fund-raising activities for charity.

Dr. Datta was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship to support her graduate work at the University of California-San Diego in the Department of Biology. Her doctoral thesis focused on understanding how the genes that control the identities of cells are regulated at the molecular level and led to the publication of 5 articles and 3 reviews. Upon receipt of her doctorate, Dr. Datta was awarded a Life Sciences Research Fellowship and moved to Yale University to do postdoctoral research on brain development. During her time at UCSD and Yale, she became a science tutor for high school students and later a mentor and then coordinator of the Academic Mentorship Program in the Sciences.

In 1993 Dr. Datta accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M with a joint appointment in Biology and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1999. She has been awarded an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Fellowship, a Senior Ruth Kirschstein Fellowship and multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Heart Association for her work in brain development, stem cell division and prostate cancer progression. She has traveled nationally and internationally to speak about her research, organized workshops and chaired sessions at national and international conferences and reviewed grant proposals for foundations and government agencies and manuscripts for prestigious journals. Dr. Datta has continued her interest in student development and mentoring through organizing alternative careers workshops, participating in TAMU Honors programming, teaching Honors classes, presenting at the Women in Science and Engineering conferences and mentoring over 50 undergraduate researchers in her laboratory.

In 2008 Dr. Datta became the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Research, working closely with students and faculty from all across campus. In this capacity she organized the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, coordinated events for REU directors during the summer, ran workshops and training sessions and published the first issue of Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. She joined the Council on Undergraduate Research and was elected to a counselor position in the spring of 2010.

In the fall of 2010 Dr. Datta became the first Executive Director of the new Honors and Undergraduate Research unit, combining the former Honors Programs Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research. She and her staff have expanded the Undergraduate Research Scholars program to include Honors students and students from all colleges, established the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors and developed and launched three new Capstone programs (Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, Undergraduate Service Scholar and Undergraduate Leadership Scholar). A new distinction (Honors Fellows) and associated Honors program (University Honors) have been developed and implemented including an application process and a more robust Living Learning Community experience. She has continued to coordinate publication of Explorations, which just released its sixth issue.

In her spare time, Dr. Datta hangs out with her husband Scott and her two “house lions.” She loves to cook and eat food from different cultures, especially if it is spicy. Luckily she and her husband also love to dance. She is the faculty advisor for TAMBDA, the Texas A&M Ballroom Dance Association, and for AggieWesties, the Texas A&M West Coast Swing Dance Club. Most weekends and some week nights she and Scott can be found on a dance floor somewhere.

Aaron Griffin Awarded COALS Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research

University Scholar Aaron Griffin, ’16, was recently awarded the 2014 College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research, one of the highest honors presented by the college to faculty, staff, and students. Griffin, a biochemistry and genetics double-major, was notified in May that he had been nominated by the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics. Each of the fourteen departments in the College of Agriculture and Life Science are allowed to nominate one undergraduate student for the Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award, and a college-level committee selected Griffin from this pool.

Aaron Griffin '16, Recipient of the 2014 College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research
Aaron Griffin ’16, Recipient of the 2014 College of Agriculture & Life Sciences Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Award for Undergraduate Research

The Dean’s Outstanding Achievement Awards are meant to recognize, award, and encourage excellence in the work of faculty, staff, and students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The award for undergraduate research, specifically, recognizes and encourages excellence in undergraduate student research. Successful nominees must demonstrate substantial involvement in major research projects or conduct independent research with faculty members. The award is limited to research completed while the undergraduate student is enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University.

For two years, Griffin has investigated the genetic and biochemical basis of mitochondrial disease as an undergraduate in Dr. Vishal Gohil’s lab. Mitochondrial disease describes a group of diverse genetic diseases arising from mutations in DNA that result in broken mitochondrial machinery, resulting in defects that may affect the heart, brain, or other organ systems. As part of the Aggie Research Scholars program, Griffin has presented research with team members Daniel Diaz and Connor McBroom at the Texas A&M Summer Undergraduate Research Poster Session and Texas A&M University System Pathways Student Research Symposium in 2013. He also presented work related to his thesis for the Undergraduate Research Scholars program at the 2014 Texas A&M University Student Research Week oral presentation session with Shrishiv Timbalia and Sarah Theriault. Griffin was listed as an author on a manuscript published recently in Human Molecular Genetics, and helped author a grant proposal recently accepted by the National Institutes of Health.

Griffin cites his involvement in Honors and Undergraduate Research programs such as the Honors Housing Community, Explorations: The Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal, University Scholars, and Undergraduate Research Scholars as playing a large role in his academic development. Griffin has certainly taken advantage of the range of programs offered through our office to help students identify, prepare for, and pursue their passions. He is excited to use this experience and the tangible evidence of his accomplishments as he pursues doctoral studies in medicine and cancer cell biology.


You aren’t Superman, listen to Yoda instead…

Sam Terrill ’16 is a sophomore biochemistry and genetics major and the 2014 National Honors Blog Weeknewly-elected president of TAMU Honors Student Council for 2014-15. Sam provides Texas A&M University Honors Program’s third contribution to the second-annual National Honors Blog Week. The theme for this synchroblog is “Things You Can’t Learn in a Classroom.” To read other contributions to this effort, visit the hub hosted at http://www.honorslounge.com/taxonomy/term/3287.

– by Sam Terrill

Starting back in high school, I’ve put a lot a lot of effort into trying to do everything. From joining lots of clubs, maintaining good grades, volunteering in the community, and hanging out with friends, I’ve done everything I’ve had the time to do. When somebody asked if I wanted to hang out, I’d say yes; if an officer position was open in an organization, I’d run; if a group project needed a leader, I’d always step up; and if a group in the community needed volunteers, I’d be there. In high school, where things were far easier, this was fine–I could do everything and still be passionate about everything. This is not the case in college.

I started my undergraduate education with high expectations from my parents, and even higher expectations from myself—planning to do everything I could do to make myself the best possible applicant for medical school. I quickly joined several clubs, got involved in an undergraduate lab, joined intramural teams, volunteered around the community, and put great time and effort into my studies. Much to my dismay, I soon was sucked into the vicious cycle of the all-nighter. With not enough time to get everything done in the day, I would work late into the night and see the sun rise. Sleep deprived, I would see a fall in productivity, and then have the need to pull another all-nighter a few days later. It took quite a while (2 ish semesters), but I finally realized that this cycle of wake up, do everything, don’t sleep, do everything, sleep some, repeat, was not what college was about. There are far more important things in like than being the perfect, well-rounded, student. Mainly, I learned two important lessons: not to be afraid to say no, and that trying to do everything isn’t enough—doing what you are capable of is.

After challenging freshman year outside of the classroom, I saw a need to prioritize what mattered most to me. I knew that grades would be something that would take care of themselves with appropriate time commitment, but I had not much of an idea as to what I wanted to do outside of the classroom, because whatever I had done freshman year simply wasn’t good enough. I was tired of getting stretched too far over many things. So, when my sophomore year rolled around, I knew that some things would need to change. I watched a star wars marathon this past summer and some of Yoda’s words struck me as profound: “Do, or do not, there is no try.” I reflected about this and knew that I would need to prioritize what I was most important to me and say no to the rest. I quit one of the clubs that I liked, because even though I enjoyed it, it was a time sink and there were more fulfilling ways to spend my time. I put more focus into spending time with my friends, because when I look back at my life years from now, the I won’t remember what clubs I joined or what molecules react—I will remember my friend though. Was this increased focus on friendships at the expense of more resume building and some time spent studying? Yes it was, but it was absolutely worth it. Instead of trying to do everything at once, I was actively doing the things that were more important to me. And, it’s not like I completely abandoned the classroom or my extracurricular involvements, I simply found that try less allowed me to truly do far more.

Sam Terrill poses while rock climbingDo, or do not, there is no try. These wise words from Yoda may seem harsh (they definitely did for Luke), yet they are important to understand, and were important for me. In the classroom, we are conditioned to always do: do this assignment, take this test, show up to class—there is no saying no (at least if you want to get a quality education, their isn’t). From early childhood, we are taught to try our best, and we get a gold star for trying, or some other award. Sadly, life doesn’t quite work that way—even when we try our hardest, it can knock us down. We either achieve our goals, or we don’t; we either do a . There is nothing wrong with simply “doing not” in some aspects of life, as long as we still are able to do the things we strive for. We aren’t Superman, so we shouldn’t try be him.

Sam is a sophomore biochemistry and genetics major seeking to become a physician. He is active in the TAMU Honors student council (rising president) and premedical society. He enjoys sports of all kinds, backpacking, and reading a books of the fantasy genre.