The Collegian
Thursday, June 13, 2024

Beckman grant awarded to biology, chemistry students

The University of Richmond has once again received the Beckman Scholars award of $96,500, which will be split evenly between five student researchers in the biology and chemistry departments.

Richmond was one of nine schools to receive the award, said Carol Parish, a chemistry professor. Two other Virginia schools, the College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia, also received the award. The remaining recipients were Bowdoin College, Brandeis University, Harvey Mudd College, Miami University of Ohio, The University of Texas at Austin and Yale University.

Of those nine schools, four of the awards went directly to undergraduate programs, including Richmond's. The remaining research grants were used to identify undergraduate students to foster, Parish said.

The application process for the school is highly competitive, Parish said.

"We write a proposal describing how great our students are, how productive our student-faculty teams are and how we plan to select the next set of Beckman Scholars should we receive the award," she said.

Research mentors who were selected for the program nominate students who have already accomplished a significant amount of research in their labs, Parish said.

"Then those students submit an essay about their career goals, a description of their research projects, and a resume," she said.

A panel of five professors chose the finalists. The panel is composed of two professors from the biology department, two from the chemistry department and one from the leadership school, said Lisa Gentile, an associate professor of chemistry.

Don Forsyth, a professor from the leadership school, is one of the panelists because the Beckman award highlights the leadership component, Parish said.

"We select the students because they're interested and passionate about functioning as scientists," Parish said. "I do think they're destined to be the scientific leaders of tomorrow."

The finalists will be announced sometime between April 11 and April 19, Gentile said.

"Part of the application process is an interview, so fitting those in may be a bit tricky at this time of the year," she said.

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Scholars conduct all different types of research, Parish said.

"The [Arnold and Mabel] Beckman [Foundation] wants to support research in chemistry and biology and the interface between the two," she said.

Students work closely with their research mentors, in the lab and for guidance on which conferences to attend.

"Research in the sciences is very much a mentoring model or an apprenticeship model, so students work very closely with the faculty on all aspects of research," she said.

Past scholars have researched topics such as the unexpected diversity of T-box transcription factors in porifera by Kathryn Holstein, a 2008 graduate, and Spin-Flip studies of diradicals, conducted by 2007 graduate Sarah Remmert, according to the Richmond Web site.

"Beckman requires that students are headed towards a career in research, that they are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, that they can spend two full summers doing research as well as the intervening academic year," Gentile wrote in an e-mail.

Students also have to attend a Beckman conference in Irvine, Calif., Gentile wrote. They are encouraged to attend other conferences to present their research, Parish said.

Evan Wang, a 2008 graduate, attended the National American Chemical Society meeting in New Orleans, the 2007 ACS meeting in Chicago and the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation Symposium in Vienna, Austria.

The grant is designed so that students will be able to focus solely on research, Gentile said. Students work for at least ten weeks during the summer, but many work longer, Parish said.

"My summer research experience was a lot of fun," Wang wrote in an e-mail. "I had done summer research before, so this time around, I was able to quickly get into my research and accomplish quite a bit in a 10-week period."

Richmond won the award during 2006, and the award lasts three years, Parish said. Richmond did not immediately reapply once the past award ended, she said.

"We elected to wait a year because the competition is so intense because once you receive your first award, any subsequent award is dependent upon your scholars achieving success," she said.

Wang learned about the award from Parish, who was his academic advisor. During his research, Wang looked at the ring conformations of the marine neurotoxin Brevetoxin A, as well as the cyclization dynamics of enediynes, he wrote.

Wang is now pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley, according to the Richmond Web site.

"If all goes well, I hope to do a post-doc after grad school and eventually find a position in academia," Wang wrote.

Scholars are expected to pursue careers in science and research after graduation from Richmond, Parish said.

"All five of our previous scholars went to grad school," she said, "and at least four of the five published in peer-reviewed scientific journals."

Richmond had applied for the grant before 2006, but it was extremely competitive, Parish said.

"Now that we know what it takes," she said, "I hope that each cohort of scholars achieve the sort of success that our first cohort achieved, and that will allow us to continue to support scholars in the future."

Contact reporter Leigh Donohue leigh.donohue@richmond.edu.

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