HHMI 2019 Gilliam Fellowship

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PhD student Erick Velasquez and Professor Jorge Torres selected by the HHMI to be one of 44 doctoral adviser-student pairs to receive a 2019 Gilliam Fellowship.

The prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship is awarded to advisor-student pairs to support the development of their scientific leadership and commitment to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

“Throughout my educational experience I have been fortunate enough to have access to incredible mentors who have transformed my career, and this is a product of their work,” said Velasquez, a third-year Biochemistry, Molecular and Structural Biology (BMSB) graduate student. “I hope to one day be in a position where I can foster intellectual curiosity, encourage critical thinking, and help promote diversity of thought in future generations of scientists.”

Velsaquez Torres

The fellowship not only provides support for Velasquez for up to three years, but also provides funds to Torres, which he will use for diversity initiatives that will benefit the department and beyond. Photo right: 

Professor Jorge Torres and graduate student Erick Velasquez.

As a Gilliam Fellow, Velasquez will be able to meet and network with other Gilliam Fellows and professors at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), connecting with a diverse community of graduate students who share a passion for solving important questions in science and promoting inclusion within STEM fields. This group of students, who are expected go on to become the next generation of influential scientists, will offer one another an invaluable support network throughout their years of graduate school.

Velasquez joined Torres’ group after receiving his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pomona College in 2016. His research in the Torres lab involves the use of predictive modeling and statistics to develop a proteomic understanding of the mechanisms that drive cellular replication. He specifically focuses on applying machine learning models to cellular systems in order to predict novel mechanisms of action. As an undergraduate student, Velasquez was a Peer Mentor for underserved populations at Pomona College. This summer, he is a Bioinformatics Machine Learning Intern at Genentech, where he is implementing and developing predictive modeling in targeted mass spectrometry analytics.  

A chemistry & biochemistry faculty member since 2009, Torres has served as a mentor for several diversity outreach programs at UCLA including the Amgen Scholars Program, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Initiative, and the Minority Access to Research Careers program. This year he received UCLA Academic Senate’s 2019 Student Development Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Award and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2019 Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award, which is given annually to honor an outstanding scientist who has shown a commitment to encouraging underrepresented minorities to enter the scientific enterprise and who has also provided mentorship.  

To learn more about the Torres group’s research, visit their website.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.