Emanuel Paz-Pérez, a Millikin University senior biology major from Miami, Fla., was granted an extraordinary opportunity this summer as he was chosen to participate in the New Biology Fellows Program held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The program offers undergraduate students, especially those in underrepresented minority groups, academic and experiential opportunities in quantitative biology and informatics. The program is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program.
"Primarily, I was able to do graduate-level research even though I'm currently an undergraduate,” said Paz-Pérez. "Having the opportunity to perform the research and to include this experience on my resume will definitely help in terms of my future."
The National Science Foundation funds a large number of research opportunities for undergraduate students through its REU Sites program. An REU Site consists of a group of approximately 10 undergraduates who work in the research programs of the host institution. Each student is associated with a specific research project, where he/she works closely with the faculty and other researchers. The title of Emanuel's research project was "Discovering the SbGl15 gene sequence within juvenile leaves expressing Glossiness in Sorghum bicolor." Emanuel worked under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Brown, assistant professor of plant genetics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"I learned a lot about sequencing, genes, and looking for a specific gene within a genome of sorghum bicolor," said Paz-Pérez. "Being able to do my own research was quite the experience and now I can take that experience and show other doctors what I can do as well as what I want to do."
The objectives of Emanuel's research included designing overlapping primer pairs to amplify an entire specific gene sequence, amplify and sequence the products of the primers, and to learn to use genetic tools, protocols, and software to find sequences within a genome.
At the end of the summer, participants of the New Biology Fellows Program presented their research results in the form of posters and oral presentations at the Illinois Summer Research Symposium in Champaign, Ill., held July 25-26. Among the 150 participants that participated, Emanuel was selected as an Honorable Mention for Young Researcher of the Year.
"I was able to attend Emanuel's poster and slide presentations at the symposium in Champaign in late July, and he did an excellent job of explaining his research to me and many others," said Dr. Ray Boehmer, Millikin associate professor of education. "Attending the symposium gave me an opportunity to see and meet some of the other participants in this excellent undergraduate summer research program. Most of the participants were of underrepresented groups in the sciences. The organizers and funders of the program obviously saw a need to focus on these students in an effort to encourage and support them in their career paths."
Boehmer added, "The selection of Emanuel as Honorable Mention Young Researcher of the Year is a huge tribute to his dedication and work, as well as being a big plus for Millikin University."
Paz-Pérez says he will look at selective graduate schools to attend after graduating from Millikin and that his educational experiences at Millikin have played an important role in terms of his research. In terms of his career, he hopes to become a researcher as well as a professor of biology.
"The faculty at Millikin have been very helpful and supportive with all of my research and work," said Paz-Pérez. "The learning opportunities at Millikin have also been very important in terms of my work leading up to this year."