UC Davis Researchers Among Successful PREP Scholars Admitted to Campus Graduate Programs

Screenshot of twitter post from Dan Starr

UC Davis Researchers Among Successful PREP Scholars Admitted to Campus Graduate Programs

Four UC Davis postbaccalaureate researchers returned to campus this fall as both graduate students and fellows of the prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP). The NSF GRFP supports outstanding scholars in STEM fields, providing a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees.

Maribel Anguiano, Colton Baumler, Manuel (Arthur) Flores Rodriguez and Celena Lozano are all alums of the National Institutes of Health-funded Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program at UC Davis, also known as PREP@UC Davis.

PREP prepares postbaccalaureate researchers from disadvantaged backgrounds and historically marginalized groups for success in Ph.D. programs in the biomedical sciences. As part of the program, scholars work as junior specialists in a campus lab and participate in an array of professional development activities.

“Working with and watching the development of all our PREP scholars has been one of the most rewarding events of our professional careers,” said Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Dan Starr, who serves as the principal investigator of PREP@UC Davis, and the program's Academic Coordinator Carole Hom. “We are so proud!”

“All the PREP programs across the US were created for individuals who need guidance to navigate academia, who are unsure about spending six years in graduate school, or want to hone their skills as a researcher,” wrote Baumler in a blogpost about his experience with PREP@UC Davis.

“However, my preference will always be with UC Davis thanks to the honesty, sincerity, and faith Carole and Dan put into their cohorts year after year,” he added, referencing Hom and Starr.

Baumler, now a second-year student in the Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Graduate Group, earned a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Chemistry from Concordia University in 2018.

As a PREP scholar at UC Davis, Baumler split his research time between the Arsuaga-Vazquez Lab (run by Professors Javier Arsuaga, of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Mariel Vazquez, of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics) and The Bay Lab (run by Assistant Professor of Evolution and Ecology Rachael Bay). His research included investigating the nuances of DNA topology and bioinformatic analyses of the thermal tolerance of corals. He currently works with Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Cell Biology Crystal Rogers, who studies factors affecting early development in the vertebrate nervous system.   

Anguiano and Lozano returned to UC Davis as students in the Neuroscience Graduate Group. Graduating from UC Davis in June 2019, the two earned B.S. degrees in Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior.

As a PREP scholar, Anguiano worked in the lab of Professor of Entomology and Nematology Joanna C. Chiu, where she explored the genetic mechanisms governing biorhythms and their role in behavior disorders. She also showcased a commitment to bridging the gap between scientists and the general public.

“Being a first-generation college student, I’ve struggled with how to bring my parents into this world,” Anguiano wrote in a blogpost posted on the PREP@UC Davis website. “So, during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic I decided to organize a symposium targeted towards creating a bridge between Spanish-speaking parents and their children in graduate school.”   

The virtual symposium was called Ciencia con Nuestra Familia (Science with our Family).

Lozano performed research in the lab of Professor Emeritus of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior Hwai-Jong Cheng. She studied adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus, specifically investigating the role of newborn granule cells in the hippocampus’ circuitry. 

Lozano’s interest in biology was initially spurred by an ecology and environmental science course she took at Los Medanos College.

“My entire perspective of life changed when I learned that humans are essentially ruining the Earth through what we eat, what we drive, what we materialistically consume and how we handle our waste,” Lozano wrote in a PREP@UC Davis blogpost detailing her journey from community college student to NSF GRFP fellow.

While completing her undergraduate degree at UC Davis, Lozano was awarded the Regents Scholarship and participated in the University Honors Program.  

While earning a B.S. in Global Disease Biology from UC Davis, Flores Rodriguez worked with Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Charles L. Bevins, investigating the role antimicrobial peptides play in allowing multicellular organisms to exist in a microbe-laden world. He graduated from UC Davis in June 2020.   

As a PREP@UC Davis scholar, Flores Rodriguez conducted research with Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Jamal Lewis. With the Immuno-Modulatory Biomaterials Laboratory, Flores Rodriguez studied the biological mechanisms that allow tumors to evade the immune system.  

Flores Rodriguez returned to UC Davis as a member of the Immunology Graduate Group. He, Anguiano and Lozano are currently rotating through faculty labs as they search for faculty mentors. 

"My decision to stay at UC Davis following my undergraduate degree and being a PREP scholar was because it was such a good fit for me,” said Flores Rodriguez.

“Ultimately, the opportunities, facilities and faculty available to me at UC Davis were very important when I made my decision, and having the support of mentors from my undergraduate degree and from the PREP program was very important to me, as a first-generation student,” he added.

“We always strive to help our scholars find the graduate program that best fits their needs and interests,” said Starr and Hom. “We’re thrilled when that program happens to be at UC Davis. The gifts of time and resources contributed by our faculty and administration have gone a long way toward helping our scholars recognize that UC Davis combines superb intellectual opportunities with a supportive community.”

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