Six HBCU students conduct research at UCLA this summer

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Six undergraduate students from four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) will contribute to research projects in department laboratories this summer.

For the fourth year, the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry is hosting undergraduate students from various Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields for the HBCU-Pathways in Chemistry summer program. The UC-HBCU Initiative seeks to increase the number of scholars from HBCUs enrolling in UC academic doctoral programs by investing in UC-HBCU relationships. This year, six undergraduate women from Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Savannah State University, and Spelman College were selected to conduct research with faculty members in the department. Andrea Chaney, Adoni Dowridge, Aziza Frank, Diane Ingabire, Sena Tay, and Symone Thompson will all complete an eight-week rotation in either a chemistry or a biochemistry laboratory, culminating in a poster presentation that will allow them to showcase their research projects. The Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) poster presentation will be held in the Neuroscience Research Building Auditorium on Thursday, August 16 from 2-5pm.


On their first day at UCLA, visiting undergraduate researchers pose for a photo with graduate student mentors; (bottom row from left) HBCU students – Andrea Chaney, Symone Thompson, Aziza Frank, Adoni Dowridge, Sena Tay, and Diane Ingabire; (top row from left) graduate student mentors – Marco Messina, Merel Dagher, Sara Erwin, Maria Flores, and Joanna Marshall. Graduate student mentors not pictured are Alex Arnold, Neil Forsythe, Irene Lim, Aanand Patel, and Jonelle White.

The program participants have been matched with a faculty member whose research aligns with their scientific interests. Each student will have the opportunity to learn about different areas of scientific research while working alongside faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers, providing an opportunity to explore academic interests. They have also each been paired with a graduate student mentor from their research group to guide them through the summer and answer any questions about the graduate school experience. Members of UCLA’s Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS) will also serve as student mentors.

Throughout the program, HBCU students will attend faculty lunch seminars, participate in workshops, attend socials, and visit UC Santa Barbara to learn about other graduate school opportunities at the University of California. HBCU students will also visit the Thousand Oaks-based biotechnology company Amgen, as well as the El Segundo-based Aerospace Corporation, to learn more about careers in the science field outside of academia. 

The department’s HBCU-Pathways program is a subset of the Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which offers upper division undergraduate students with outstanding academic potential the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors on research projects. The programs are designed for students who wish to learn more about the graduate school experience and possibly pursue an academic career in teaching and research, while attracting them back for their graduate research.  

Our Visiting Undergraduate Researchers

Andrea Chaney

Chaney%2CAndrea HBCU 18Andrea Chaney will be a junior at Clark Atlanta University in the fall, where she studies Biology. This summer, she is working in Professor Margot Quinlan’s lab, and her graduate student mentor is Aanand Patel. Andrea is originally from Colorado Springs, Colorado. She discovered her passion for pathology when she was introduced to the subject in high school, and since then, she has sought out opportunities allowing her to pursue these interests. She plans to continue her education to become a dermapathologist. Andrea has participated in the Georgia Alabama Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (GA-AL LSAMP), a program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  Andrea says that she selected this summer program because, “I have a passion to grasp the understanding of how and why things work and to challenge my intellectual curiosity.”

Adoni Dowridge

Dowridge%2CAdoni HBCU 18Adoni Dowridge is also a rising junior Biology major at Clark Atlanta University, and this summer she will research in the lab of Professor Heather Maynard. Graduate student Neil Forsythe will serve as her mentor. Adoni is from Brooklyn, New York. At Clark Atlanta, she has conducted research in prostate cancer and therapeutic development under Dr. Nathan Bowen through the GA-AL LSAMP internship program. She plans to pursue either a Ph.D. or an M.D./Ph.D., with the ultimate goal of being a neuroscientist. When asked why she selected a summer program at UCLA, Adoni says, “It will be an excellent opportunity to prepare me for a graduate level program and help me build long-lasting connections.”  

Aziza Frank

Frank%2CAzizaA HBCU 18Aziza Frank, also from Brooklyn, New York, is a rising senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C. This summer, she will be working with Professor Ellen Sletten, with graduate student Irene Lim serving as her mentor.  She is majoring in Chemistry, and the strength of UCLA’s Chemistry program was a factor for her in deciding to come to Los Angeles this summer. Aziza plans to pursue her Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry to become a pharmaceutical scientist. At Howard, she has had the opportunity to intern in the College of Pharmacy with Dr. Sajith Meleveetil and Dr. Amol Kulkarni, and last summer, she spent a month in South Africa conducting research on the ebola virus. She is also a MARC Scholar.

Diane Ingabire

Ingabire%2CDiane HBCU 18Diane Ingabire will be a sophomore at Spelman College in the fall, where she majors in Biochemistry.  She is from Nyagatare, Rwanda. Professor Anne Andrews will host Diane, and her graduate student mentors will be Merel Dagher and Sara Erwin. After graduating from Spelman, Diane plans to attend graduate school with the intent of becoming a forensic scientist, taking these skills back to Rwanda to enact change in the justice system of her home country. While in high school, Diane participated in the Yale Young African Scholars program in Ethiopia, and an internship at the Kigali Forensic Laboratory. Diane looks forward to being exposed to research in the department as she considers her future graduate school and career options.

Sena Tay

Tay%2CSena HBCU 18Sena Tay is a Marine Science major at Savannah State University, and she plans to complete her degree during the upcoming fall semester. She will conduct research this summer in the lab of Professor Aradhna Tripati (UCLA Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences), and her graduate student mentor will be Alex Arnold. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Policy with a minor in International Development from Keene State College in New Hampshire. She decided to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in Marine Science because she says, “I have, as long as I can remember, been drawn to the biological and ecological attributes of the ocean and hold a deep love, appreciation, and respect for it.”  She has researched under Dr. Colin Abernethy at Keene State, worked on literature research for a National Institute of Health grant about ethanol and biodiesel as fuel sources, participated in the StemSeas program through Columbia University and funded through the NSF, and worked with Dr. Amanda Kaltenberg at Savannah State researching the water column near Cape Hatteras. She plans to work in coast ecology or deep ocean fields and pursue a master’s degree and ultimately, a Ph.D.

Symone Thompson

Thompson%2CSymone HBCU 18Symone is a rising senior at Spelman College, where she is pursuing a double degree in Engineering and Biology. She is working in the lab of Professor Steven Clarke, and will be mentored by graduate student Jonelle White. She has a passion for the intersection of science and service, and plans to become a biomedical engineer and physician scientist in order to alleviate challenges faced by people in African countries. Symone is passionate about promoting opportunities for black women in STEM fields, and this led her to create her organization called Golden Girlz With Game, which caters to young black girls in underserved areas. Symone says that the organization focuses on the “6 S’s: sports, sisterhood, service, support, self-worth, and science.” She has studied abroad in Lisbon, Portugal, and Accra, Ghana, the latter of which has influenced her research interests towards studying HIV and AIDS. She has conducted research at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor as well as at her undergraduate institution.

We are excited to welcome these researchers and look forward to seeing what they accomplish in the department this summer!

Many thanks to Graduate Student Affairs Officer Annie Carpenter for writing this article. 

Photos by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.