Research fuels recognition and opportunity for graduating seniors

Each year, the College of Biological Sciences honors its top undergraduate students for their research contributions. The following students were recognized during commencement. 

Jessica West – College of Biological Sciences Medal recipient

Jessica West – College of Biological Sciences Medal recipient

Jessica West

Jessica West, of Shasta Lake, Calif., received her Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. As a sophomore, West was awarded a Provost Undergraduate Fellowship to investigate Drosophila insecticide resistance in the lab of Professor Joanna Chiu, Department of Entomology. She was selected to present her research at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students and the Entomological Society of America Annual Meeting. West has been highly involved in a recently published study investigating underlying Drosophila gene expression.

“My research experience has greatly complimented my coursework,” West said. “Working in a lab has made me a better student in that I can see how the knowledge I learned in the classroom is applied in a real-life setting. It’s one thing to learn about lab techniques, but quite another to be in the lab doing them.”

West credits much of her success to the institutional support she received from the Special Transitional Enrichment Program and the Biology Undergraduate Scholars Program. “Coming from my small town that doesn't have a lot of educational opportunities, I think it goes to show that if you're self-motivated, curious and hard-working, despite your background you can go far and excel in college,” she said.

“Writing papers and giving presentations has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my time in research because it has made me appreciate the storytelling aspect of research and how to make your science appealing,” West said. In the fall, she will begin a Ph.D. program in biochemistry, molecular and cell biology at Cornell University. West hopes to one day conduct research and teach at the university level.

The College of Biological Sciences Medal recipient is a distinguished recognition honoring the top undergraduate of the college, selected from a diverse application pool with recommendations from faculty members.  

Roy Qu – Ronald and Lydia Baskin Research Award recipient

Roy Qu - Ronald and Lydia Baskin Research Award recipient

Roy Qu

Roy Qu, of San Jose, Calif., received his Bachelor’s of Science in Genetics and Genomics. He currently serves as a junior specialist in the lab of Professor Damian Genetos, Department of Veterinary Anatomy & Cell Biology. Qu is investigating signaling in skeletal homeostasis and repair, with plans to send out a first-author manuscript soon.

Qu’s work focuses on understanding how bone-forming cells respond during low oxygen conditions, which may lead to a better understanding of how some cancers spread throughout the body. He aspires to become a physician conducting both basic and translational research on the clinical use of genome editing.

“The most rewarding aspect of undergraduate research has been figuring out how to learn and troubleshoot on your own,” Qu said. “It's a very important skill that's not necessarily taught or trained in classes.” As a freshman, Qu conducted biomedical research on telomere regulation with Professor Lifeng Xu, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics. Qu has gained further experience developing an independent project from a proposal and preliminary data into a manuscript ready for submission. He feels that all of his research has been valuable, especially the lessons he has learned from the experiments that came back with negative data.

Interested in science since an early age, Qu is grateful his curiosity has persisted into young adulthood. “Winning this award puts my effort and career goals into perspective,” said Qu. “I think it's tempting to do research just to check off a box, but putting in the time and effort with the help of stimulating and supportive mentors is going to be one of the most helpful educational experiences you can ever receive as an undergraduate student.”

The Ron and Lydia Baskin Research Award is given to one graduating senior for excellence in research in the biological sciences.

Jenice Cheah – Undergraduate Student of the Year recipient

Jenice Cheah – Undergraduate Student of the Year recipient

Jenice Cheah

Jenice Cheah, of San Jose, Calif., received her Bachelor’s of Science in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior. Under the guidance of Aldrin Gomes, associate professor of neurobiology, physiology and behavior, she has completed several independent projects supported by undergraduate fellowships from the American Heart Association and the Office of the Provost.

Her work has led to the publication of two papers and a presentation at the Undergraduate Research Conference. She is currently applying to medical school. Cheah credits the support of Gomes, who pushed her to challenge herself in the lab.

“I had to talk to my principal investigator about experimental designs and draft my own proposals, styling it like a small grant,” Cheah said. “I also had the opportunity to work in the lab the summer that I was awarded fellowships and it was shocking to me to see how much I could learn and accomplish when working full time.”

Cheah encourages students to get involved in the lab as soon as possible, as research opportunities abound on campus. “Research has been important to me and it is not something I want to give up,” she said. “I want to be a clinician who is competent in understanding the science behind medicine and I want to be able to facilitate conversation between scientists and physicians.”

The Undergraduate Student of the Year award recognizes a graduating senior who has conducted substantial research activity with a faculty member for two or more quarters and contributed significantly to campus and community service.