Fourth year graduate student Sergio Cepeda and his mentor Dr. Ann Griffith, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, & Molecular Genetics are the 2018 recipients of the prestigious Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
The award is designed to promote promising scientific research conducted by students from groups underrepresented in the biomedical sciences with added support for student-mentor pairs to promote diversity among within their home department. Advisors will also receive mentor coaching at the HHMI. Sergio was one of only 46 graduate students to receive this unique award. They are the first mentee-mentor recipient at UT Health San Antonio.
To compete for the award, mentor-mentee pairs must first be nominated by a training grant director. Dr. Nicquet Blake, director of the Initiative to Maximize Student Development (IMSD) training grant recognized the impressive work in the lab and Dr. Griffith’s commitment to mentoring her students and executed the nomination process.
“The Gilliam Fellowship is one of the most prestigious award a graduate student can get,” she announced when recognizing just how important this was for Sergio. “Dr. Griffith submitted an outstanding package and we are thrilled that their excellence in research and commitment to diversity were recognized by the review commitee.”
Cepeda is in the Integrated Biomedical Science program (Molecular, Immunology & Microbiology discipline) and conducts research on the thymus. The three-year grant includes funds for a stipend and a training allowance.
“The grant will aid my research, allowing me to investigate different interventions aimed at reducing atrophy the thymus undergoes with age,” said Cepeda. “If successful, our research could result in increasing the immune response, which would lead to increased healthy years for individuals.”
As part of the fellowship, Sergio will present his research at HHMI headquarters in Maryland and spend time learning from his cohort and interacting with HHMI investigators.
Dr. Griffith is looking forward to engaging with faculty from other universities who have received this award for mentor training.
“I am going to have the opportunity to receive top notch world-class training to mentor underrepresented students and I am looking forward to bringing that training back to other current and future students.”
The grant also includes funds for activities aimed at fostering diversity on campus, and will fund two full-time summer undergraduate research internships in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, & Molecular Genetics for students from groups underrepresented in science.
The two first met at the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program orientation poster session held at UT Health San Antonio. Sergio saw how enthusiastic she was about her research and decided to rotate in her lab, making him one of the first rotation students in her newly established lab.
He states, “the mentorship that I have received at UT Health San Antonio has been everything to me, and I would not be the researcher I am today without it.”