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NIH Honors Scholarship Program Participants

By Matt Holder

Students in the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) were joined by leaders of NIH and scientists in the intramural research programs at a recognition ceremony in the Mary Woodard Lasker Center (the Cloisters) recently. The event celebrated the scientific achievements of the UGSP Scholars throughout the school year and during their 10-week summer program at NIH.

The UGSP offers scholarships to undergraduates committed to careers in biomedical research. Recipients work here as research trainees during the summer and also agree to work at NIH after graduation, one year for each year of scholarship support. While here, the scholars participate in a series of programs on science, skill-enhancement and career development and planning. These programs, along with research experience, are designed to prepare them for careers in biomedical research.

Dr. Ruth Kirschstein, acting NIH director, welcomed scholars and their guests, which included not only their lab mentors at NIH, but also their university mentors who traveled here for the recognition ceremony and poster day.

Dr. Yvonne Maddox, acting NIH deputy director, delivered remarks at the ceremony. "We at the NIH are excited about the successes of the UGSP. Of the 45 scholars who have graduated college, eight have been accepted to Ph.D. programs in the sciences, 17 are attending medical schools, and eight scholars have been accepted to combined M.D./Ph.D. programs. The remaining 12 graduates will be in our labs for the next year, receiving more research training before starting their graduate and medical school programs."

Former Congressman Louis Stokes, who introduced the legislation authorizing the UGSP, sent a letter expressing his regrets that he could not attend. Dr. Alfred C. Johnson, director of the UGSP, read the letter to the audience. "I hope you will keep me in mind," the letter stated, "for future opportunities to speak to this group since they are the beneficiaries of my legislation." Johnson also spoke of his experiences with this year's scholars and his high esteem for them. Johnson joined NCI's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in 1985 and has been an investigator there since 1994. He was director of the UGSP last summer, but this summer's group is the first recruited under his leadership.

Alika Maunakea

Alika Maunakea, a UGSP scholar for 3 years, graduated cum laude from Creighton University in May. "I am so grateful for this opportunity to come to the NIH and work with the leading researchers in the field I've been interested in since high school," he said. In high school, Maunakea began a project to determine the effects of a traditional Hawaiian herbal medicine on cancer cells. His results showed that water-soluble compounds from noni, a native Hawaiian plant, have a very selective inhibitory effect on various types of cancer cells. This summer he worked in NCI's Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology with Dr. John Weinstein. Maunakea plans to pursue a doctoral degree in pharmacogenomics after taking time off from school for more training in Weinstein's lab.

OrLando Yarborough III, a Meyerhoff scholar majoring in biological sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, also spoke of his passion for research. As a young boy, his first aquarium — actually the death of his first goldfish — sparked his desire to understand everything he could about marine biology and helping things live. His interests shifted to biomedical research when he discovered that marine organisms are used to understand our own biology.

OrLando Yarborough III

"The beginning of helping people live a quality life is here, in biomedical research," he said. "When we scientists decrease people's physical complications, we consequently allow an increase in their quality of life in mind and spirit." Yarborough spent the summer studying the nicking activity of in vitro and in vivo synthesized adeno-associated virus rep proteins in NIDDK's Laboratory of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Dr. Roland Owens, former president of the NIH Black Scientists Association and current chair of BSA's career enhancement committee, mentored Yarborough during the summer.

The UGSP also recognized previous participants who are currently fulfilling their service obligation at NIH before continuing graduate or medical programs. Lawanda Miller-Schief, a doctoral student in the molecular and cellular biology interdisciplinary program at Tulane University, and Ahmed Ismail, a doctoral student studying molecular simulations and algorithms at MIT, attended the ceremony during their visit to NIH to explore postdoctoral opportunities. All current and previous UGSP participants were presented with lapel pins featuring the UGSP logo and motto olim doctus, semper doctus — "once a scholar, always a scholar."

For more information about the UGSP, including an online application, see

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