April 10, 2018

Graduate student receives Ford Foundation fellowship

Prestigious fellowship will allow UC Riverside’s Donovan Argueta to continue his research on what drives increased eating behaviors in obesity

Author: Iqbal Pittalwala
April 10, 2018

Donovan Argueta, a first-generation college graduate at the University of California, Riverside, has won a Ford Foundation 2018 Dissertation Fellowship.

The $25,000 fellowship begins June 1, 2018. As a fellow, Argueta will receive additional support to attend an annual conference of the Ford Foundation fellows this fall.

The mission of the Ford Foundation fellowships — to increase diversity and the ability of educators and academic researchers to serve as resources and role models for underrepresented communities — inspired Argueta to apply for the competitive and prestigious award.

“The foundation’s mission lines up very well with my personal goals of becoming a university research professor,” Argueta said. “The financial support enables me to take my time in planning the next steps in my career.”

The one-year fellowship will allow Argueta unfettered time to complete his doctoral degree while also seeking out a postdoctoral position. During this time he will continue to be mentored by his guidance committee: Nicholas V. DiPatrizio, an associate professor of biomedical sciences and Argueta’s doctoral dissertation advisor; Victor G. J. Rodgers, the Jacques S. Yeager, Sr. Professor of Bioengineering; and Christian Y. Lytle, an associate professor of biomedical sciences.

“Donovan embodies the true spirit of the Ford Foundation Fellowship Program’s mission to increase diversity among the nation’s university faculty,” DiPatrizio said. “He is a first-generation U.S. citizen and the first in his family to not only pursue a doctoral degree, but to earn a bachelor’s degree. This speaks volumes to Donovan’s unique ability to overcome any perceived challenge presented to him. I have no doubt he will become an outstanding research faculty serving as a role model for underrepresented individuals in scientific research.”

DiPatrizio added that Argueta’s dissertation is centered around an important project aimed at identifying key biological mechanisms in the gut that become dysregulated in obesity and drive overeating of high-energy foods. During the fellowship period, Argueta will focus on biochemical and molecular signals in the gut that drive increased eating behaviors in obesity as well as the consequences of these signals.

“Obesity is an epidemic, and in the Riverside area individuals are affected at higher rates than the national average,” Argueta said. “Minority groups are even more susceptible to obesity — especially in childhood. In addition to the physical and mental health disparities associated with obesity, this epidemic places an enormous financial burden on our health care system. My research aims to provide background and understanding into the onset and persistence of overeating as a way to inform treatment and prevention of obesity.”

“Donovan’s research findings will aid in the development of novel therapeutics designed to target the endocannabinoid system in the gut for the safe treatment of obesity and related metabolic diseases,” DiPatrizio said.

Argueta grew up in a Mexican and Guatemalan American family in Palmdale. He joined UCR in fall 2014 after receiving his bachelor of science in bioengineering from California Lutheran University. He expects to receive his doctoral degree in bioengineering in June 2019. Eager to help others and give back to the communities that have enabled him to learn and grow, he is seeking a postdoctoral position where he can continue studying disease and take the necessary steps to become an independent scientific investigator.

UCR first appealed to Argueta when he attended a talk given by Rodgers at a monthly meeting of the Ventura County Chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

“It was his passion for the mission and research being done at UCR that convinced me to apply for graduate studies here,” Argueta said. “My interest in bioengineering germinated when I saw the film ‘Jurassic Park’ at a young age. It sparked my curiosity into science and the incredible power of biology.”

A Diversity Supplement Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse supported Argueta for the first three years of his graduate research. He is the recipient of numerous travel awards, enabling his attendance at several national and international conferences to present his research findings. Earlier this month, he joined 25 other UC graduate students and UC President Janet Napolitano at the state capitolto impress upon lawmakers the benefits of graduate research.

“I owe my research progress and support in applying for a Ford Foundation Fellowship to my dissertation committee as well as the departments of Bioengineering and Biomedical Sciences,” Argueta said. “The help and encouragement I received from them have been invaluable.”

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