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.
According to the Foundation’s website, “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.”
Shane Mitchell '21: Dedicated to Fighting Dementia
Mitchell is a three-year member of Associate Professor of Biology Jason Kuehner’s on-campus lab, serving as a research assistant both during the academic year and through the summer research program. He holds the distinction of being the first and only first-year student to hold a research position in Kuehner’s lab.
“Shane is an intuitive and efficient learner, often picking up complicated techniques after one demonstration,” Dr. Kuehner said in his letter of recommendation. “He is the first person I turn to if there’s a problem in the lab, and for this reason he has optimized a variety of lab protocols. He often works more hours than expected for his faculty-student research stipend because he enjoys solving problems and tinkering with different approaches.”
During his time working with Dr. Kuehner, Mitchell has initiated a new and challenging project to implement CRISPRCas9 gene editing in the lab’s yeast model research system. He and his lab partner made progress in designing CRISPR guide RNAs using an online database, cloning expression cassettes into a plasmid vector, confirming candidates by sequencing, transforming them into yeast cells, and screening for edited cells. By the end of the summer, the lab team demonstrated successful DNA editing and was able to increase its efficiency from 50 percent to 90 percent for the lab’s target gene. Mitchell has since extended the use of the CRISPR editing tool to a second project, where he studies the regulation of yeast stress response genes. His second research project has expanded his skills to include additional techniques in bioinformatics, genetics, molecular biology, and biochemistry. In addition to developing experimental skills, he has become proficient with data management, oral and poster presentations, and scientific grant writing.
Mitchell’s professional aspirations are to obtain a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and use his degree to research diseases within the field of dementia, as well as teach at the university level.
“Studying dementia has become extremely significant in my life because, during the first semester of my sophomore year, my grandmother was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease,” Mitchell wrote in his personal statement. “My grandmother’s condition is heartbreaking, but with her in my mind, I have the will to push myself academically.
“Becoming a research and instructional assistant allowed me to go beyond a basic understanding of lecture material and apply my knowledge through hands-on experience…Working on my first project the summer after my freshman year was when I truly realized research was right for me. By utilizing molecular techniques like western blots and CRISPR-mediated genome editing, I was able to ignite my passion for research by addressing fundamental biological questions.”
Carrie Rodriguez '21: Future Ph.D. and Educator
In Rodriguez’s first semester at Emmanuel, she discovered, through a course in cellular and molecular biology, that she did not solely want to learn about the brain, but rather loved the biological basis of disorders and behavior. “I was enamored by the complexity of cell communication,” she said. “Years later, as a longtime teaching assistant for that course, I look back on the true start of my love for neurobiology very fondly.”
That same year, she found herself drawn to the work of Associate Professor of Biology Todd Williams, who focused on the engraftment delay of donor-derived microglial cells in post-hematopoietic bone marrow transplant recipients.
“The day I began working in Dr. Williams’ laboratory, the image of myself as a future neuroscientist became very clear,” she said in a personal statement. “No longer was the idea of studying the brain only an aspiration, but an actual calling. I loved the experimental design process I underwent with my research partner as we prepared our project on the relationship between peripheral inflammatory responses and microglial engraftment. The more skills I gained, which included cryostat, flow cytometry, and staining, the more I knew I wanted to work as a neuroimmunologist for the rest of my life.”
“Carrie is a special young academic with a passion for scientific research and exploration,” said Dr. Williams, in his letter of recommendation. “Carrie displayed this motivation early on when I first met her during her very first semester on campus when she took it upon herself to schedule a meeting to discuss my research program. I found her enthusiastic, asking great questions, and follow-up questions, during our discussion. Many discussions later, I still find her to be inquisitive, intelligent and highly motivated to pursue a career in neuroscience research.”
Rodriguez’s research position with Dr. Williams, as well as the advice of other professors, led her to the Anderson Laboratory at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, where she began working in early January. There, she studies a genetic form of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) using immunological, behavioral and histological methods, and is designing a project with Principal Investigator Dr. Matthew Anderson and research fellow Dr. Yuda Huo. Her work in the lab will inform her senior distinction paper over the next year and a half, as well as be published in papers currently in preparation.
After graduating from Emmanuel next year, Rodriguez plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Neurobiology (with a focus on neuroimmunology and the role of immune dysfunction in ASD) and to one day become a professor of neurobiology.
“I hope to use my position as a professor to educate about different types of disorders, as well as instill a sense of compassion into a new generation of scientists, doctors, and health professionals,” she said. “As a future educator, it will be my duty to bring out the best in my students, and to help them take understanding and empathy into their future careers.”