Integrated Program in Biochemistry (IPiB) graduate student Sébastien Ortiz recently earned a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship. He is one of just 39 other students across the United States to receive the award to support diversity in science.
“I feel incredibly lucky and surprised to have received this award,” Ortiz says. “The funding will provide for my stipend, tuition, and other expenses and will be very helpful for my graduate career.”
The fellowship also has benefits for the student’s mentor. Ortiz is in the lab of biomolecular chemistry professor Christina Hull. IPiB is the joint graduate program of the Department of Biochemistry and the Department of Biomolecular Chemistry. Hull will get to participate in online and in-person training to become a better mentor for underrepresented students.
The Hull Lab studies Cryptococcus, a fungal pathogen that is responsible for thousands of deaths per year from meningitis, particularly in people with weak immune systems like those with HIV/AIDS. The lab studies the spores of the fungus, which are dormant and stress resistant, and hence hard to kill. They also investigate how the spores differentiate into the yeast form, which is when they can cause disease.
They’ve looked for compounds that can prevent the spores from becoming yeasts or stop the growth of the yeasts and have found a few compounds that can accomplish this. Ortiz’s research focuses on using microfluidics to study the process of how the spores become yeasts and are affected by the compounds.
Beyond research, he believes his fellowship will give him more opportunities to get other underrepresented groups involved in science.
“I grew up in Washington, D.C. and did a lot of outreach with minority students there to encourage them to pursue science,” he says. “I think that a lot of the time they don’t receive the encouragement they need or have too many other obligations that they don’t get the exposure they need to want to pursue a career in science. I plan to continue doing outreach and I think this fellowship will help me do that.”
To read more about this fellowship, see the HHMI press release below.