Texas A&M University Department of Biology students Allison K. Baker ’23 and Emily D. Chapa ’23 have been selected as 2020-21 Beckman Scholars, as announced Tuesday (June 23) by the Texas A&M LAUNCH: Honors Program.
The Beckman Scholars Program was established in 1997 by the California-based Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to recognize and support outstanding undergraduate researchers in chemistry and the biological sciences — those whose studies of “the chemistry of life” will lead to “the invention of new methods, instruments and materials that will open up new avenues of research in science.” The award honors the memory of Arnold O. Beckman, founder-chairman emeritus of Beckman Instruments, Inc., and inventor of several scientific instruments, including the Beckman DU Spectrophotometer that revolutionized chemical analysis. Texas A&M has been an invited member of the prestigious program since 2014.
Baker, a biology major from Dallas, and Chapa, a microbiology major from Brownwood, are among 62 undergraduate scholars from 37 universities across the nation chosen to receive 2020-21 Beckman Foundation scholarships. A total of 14 Texas A&M students have been selected during the past six years for the elite honor, including fellow biology students Ryan Rahman ’22 and Rachel Porter ’21 and 2018 Texas A&M chemistry graduate and Brown-Rudder Award recipient Brooke Versaw ’18.
Each year on select campuses across the country, Beckham Scholars are chosen on the basis of an intensive written application and interview process that probes each candidate’s goals, values and commitment to a career in scientific research and community service. Texas A&M’s process begins by identifying the top students majoring in biochemistry, biomedical engineering, chemistry or genetics during the spring semester of their freshman year. As Beckman Scholars, each will start their undergraduate research career with the top Beckman faculty mentors in their departments the summer prior to their sophomore year, embarking on research projects that they will continue through graduation as part of a three-year, $156,000 foundation program award that supports the selection of two Beckman Scholars each year.
As Beckman Scholars, Baker and Chapa will receive financial support for their research for two summers and their junior years. Both will be paired with faculty mentors: Baker with Texas A&M biologist Dr. Bruce Riley to study regeneration of hair cells and neurons within the inner ears of zebrafish; and Chapa with Texas A&M biologist and Terry Thomas University Professor Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen to better understand the mechanisms of the circadian clock.
The two students will attend the annual Beckman Scholars Symposium with their peers from around the U.S., as well as professional conferences in their respective fields.
Baker says she is fascinated by science’s ability to find solutions to macroscopic problems when looking at the microscopic scale. As a first-time researcher and member of both the Biology Honors Program and the University Honors Program, she is excited to challenge herself within the new educational setting of the Riley lab, where she hopes to better understand important pathways and proteins involved in molecular biology by testing functions of Fgf genes during zebrafish development.
Chapa, who describes herself as an aspiring pediatric oncologist and cancer researcher, is a Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholar as well as a Hispanic Scholarship Fund Finalist. She has previous experience volunteering and shadowing at her local hospital and various health clinics in her hometown and is involved in several Texas A&M organizations, including HOSA, W.H.O.O.P.,and Lambda Sigma. As a member of Bell-Pedersen’s Center for Biological Clocks Research-affiliated laboratory, she hopes to find a connection between protein synthesis and cellular processes.
In addition to lab research, Beckman Scholars are expected to participate in a series of leadership and research programming designed to give them a unique depth and breadth of understanding of the overall research enterprise. These experiences and opportunities include access to student-peer mentors and faculty research advisors, leadership training such as communication skills and conflict management, insight into and participation in the scientific review and publication process and preparation for national fellowship and graduate or professional school applications.
Beckman Scholars receive significant scholarship support from both the Beckman Foundation and the Texas A&M Division of Research during summers and academic years as well as additional funds to help defray the cost of research supplies or travel to professional conferences. Their efforts also are supported in part by generous donations from the Texas A&M Association of Former Students.
Learn more about the Beckman Scholars Program or Texas A&M Honors and Undergraduate Research at http://launch.tamu.edu/Honors.
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