February 6, 2018

Four UCR undergraduates awarded prestigious research fellowships

Howard Hughes Medical Institute fellowships enable students to conduct research in top labs this summer

Author: Sarah Nightingale
February 6, 2018

Four undergraduate students at the University of California, Riverside have won fellowships from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). The program provides support for students who are motivated toward careers as academic scientists to participate in cutting-edge research over the summer. It is geared toward students who come from racial, ethnic, and other underrepresented groups in the sciences, including those from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Each year I can nominate four students for the EXROP Fellowship, so you can imagine how happy I am that all were selected,” said Susan Wessler, distinguished professor of genetics at UCR. “EXROP is a fantastic opportunity for our best undergraduates to broaden their research horizons by working in the very best labs in the U.S.”

The recipients are Diana Medina-Yerena, Benjamin Meza, Alejandro Quinones, and Sabrina Stulting. All four students also participate in the University Honors Program.

Wessler nominated the students with help from Jim Burnette, an academic coordinator and director of UCR’s Dynamic Genome program. Wessler, who was named a HHMI Professor in 2006 for her work to engage undergraduate students in science, developed the Dynamic Genome program to introduce first-year undergraduates to an authentic research experience.

More about the students

A headshot of Benjamin Meza
Benjamin Meza

Benjamin Meza is a second-year biology student whose curiosity in science stemmed from his childhood love of space and the universe. He chose to attend UCR because of the opportunities to engage in research. “The HHMI scholarship will provide me with research experience and networking opportunities that I can build on as I begin my career. This is a chance to work under some of the top scientists in the country and participate in research that pertains to my interests. It will give me a boost in building a successful research career,” Meza said.

A headshot of Diana Medina-Yerena
Diana Medina-Yerena

Diana Medina-Yerena is a second-year biology student who became fascinated by the complexity of life as a high school student taking AP Biology. “I was immediately attracted to the STEM world and never looked back. This HHMI fellowship is a huge opportunity to continue to learn about my interests in biomedical research and explore this career field. This is something I would never have imagined myself doing growing up, but I am thrilled to partake in this program,” Medina-Yerena said.

A headshot of Alejandro Quinones
Alejandro Quinones

Alejandro Quinones is a third-year biology student who got his first taste of research working in his high school biotechnology lab. This experience led him to UCR’s Dynamic Genome program and HHMI-funded SALSA summer scholars program, and a USDA summer research internship. “The HHMI EXROP fellowship is an incredible opportunity to work in the laboratory of leading scientists and I am excited to take part in a new research project. I know this fellowship will enhance my career goals and allow me to continue to develop as a person,” Quinones said.

A headshot of Sabrina Stulting
Sabrina Stulting

Sabrina Stulting is a third-year biology student and Riverside native who always wanted to attend UCR. “I’ve had an interest in science for as long as I can remember, but it was through taking AP Biology in high school that I realized I wanted to continue studying it in college. Through the EXROP fellowship, I hope to better prepare myself for graduate school for a career as an academic scientist. I believe this program will provide an intensive yet supportive environment in which I will be able to broaden my research network,” Stulting said.

More about the EXROP fellowship

Each fellowship includes 10 weeks of full-time research in the lab of an HHMI scientist, a $5,000 stipend, all travel and housing costs, and attendance at two HHMI meetings. Future funding opportunities are also available to recipients, including a second summer experience and graduate school support.

Since EXROP’s inception in 2003, 930 undergraduates from 175 colleges and universities have been matched with 243 HHMI investigators, professors, and early career scientists. Of the 555 EXROP alumni who have earned a baccalaureate degree, 265 have gone on to graduate programs.

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