Statement of Purpose 1 - STEM
I was born in Lewiston, Idaho to parents aged 18 and 19. My dad served as a Marine in the Persian Gulf War to support our young family, and my mom graduated early from high school to deliver me. When I was almost two years old, my mom gave birth to my brother, Beau. Moments after birth, my brother laid blue on the operating table with a distended abdomen. He was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease characterized by thick mucus concentrated in the lungs and pancreas and, at the time, a median life span of 30 years. From a young age, his condition upset me, and yet fascinated me. Beau did not live the life of a normal, happy toddler, as he required constant trips to the hospital. One fateful night, as my mom drove Beau home from a family friend's house, she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the guard rail on the side of the road. The accident crushed my brother's side of the car completely, and he was killed in the accident. Later, my parents divorced and my mom and I relocated. After moving, she was physically debilitated, which was exacerbated by the fact that she no longer had a steady income. By the time I could work, I had to pay for school clothes, yearbooks, sports fees, gas money, insurance, etc. My resilience, independence, and dislike for our constant financial hardships drove me to succeed in every academic endeavor I undertook in order to never face similar adversity. I have been able to transfer these characteristics to my studies and research, and they will continue to be an asset to me during graduate school as I work to overcome obstacles.
Coming to the University of Washington as a low-income, first-generation college student meant that I had to find my own funding and career path without the direction provided to most of my peers. I worked diligently to receive scholarships and grants that fully cover my expenses. Choosing an area of study was surprisingly simple; although Beau's loss was a tragedy, it drove me to undertake research in genetics and major in bioengineering so that I could help alleviate genetic diseases plaguing others. When I started doing research in Celeste Berg's lab, I realized I had found my niche.
I was funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as an Integrative Research Intern to investigate tubulogenesis, the formation of tubes. I used Drosophila melanogaster as a model to understand this process, which occurs during the formation of essential organs, such as the heart, lungs, and neural tube. The fruit fly is an excellent model organism for this process because of the development of two long, easily accessible breathing tubes called dorsal appendages that extend from egg chambers. In wild-type egg chambers, a thin layer of "stretch" cells lies under the dorsal appendage-forming cells; these cells extend cellular protrusions toward the cells that form the floor of the tube and are thought to act as a substrate or guiding track during tube elongation. In bullwinkle (SOX92D) mutants, stretch-cell signaling molecules are improperly expressed, causing the formation of open tubes and short, broad dorsal appendages. To understand the normal and mutant interactions between stretch cells and floor cells, I created a strain that expresses Green Fluorescent Protein in stretch cells. Using antibody staining against a floor-cell marker, I imaged the wild-type interaction using confocal microscopy. I also created a recombinant strain containing the bullwinkle mutation. My results indicated that in mutants, the stretch cells do not extend cellular protrusions; they also lose adhesion between each other and fail to engulf other cells. I presented my work at the University of Montana and at the UW-HHMI research symposia and was awarded "Best Poster" for my work.
This year, I successfully sought assistance from the Ronald E. McNair Program, Boeing Research Scholarship, and Washington Research Foundation Fellowship. They are financially supporting my research, graduate school pursuit, and will publish my work at the end of the year. The McNair Program also selected me to present my work at the Annual National McNair Research Conference. The project I am currently working on hinges on the fact that Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacterial infections are a common problem in immune-deficient patients, such as cancer patients, burn victims, and cystic fibrosis patients. Treating these infections usually involves using an aminoglycosidic antibiotic, such as neomycin. Unfortunately, the range between effective treatment and toxicity is narrow. Patients treated long-term often experience renal failure and deafness. My research goal is to develop the fruit fly as a model to understand the effects of neomycin toxicity and to identify genes whose altered expression can help resist the side effects of this drug. In order to develop this model, I have established a dose-response curve of neomycin concentration to survivorship. I am currently creating a strain of flies that will express neomycin resistance in targetable tissues. I will systematically drive this antibiotic resistance gene through various tissues in the flies, which will allow me to determine where the gene is essential for survival. Finally, I will perform a genetic screen by knocking down expression of genes potentially involved in aiding aminoglycoside toxicity. Results from this study may be used to ameliorate side effects of the current drug or to facilitate development of a new drug with reduced side effects.
My parents' lack of college degrees, the loss of my brother, and the financial hardships we have faced drive me to attain the highest educational degree I can in order to prove to myself and others that class and hardships are not barriers to the attainment of a doctorate degree. My experience in undergraduate research has opened my eyes to the persistence required to reach conclusions to complex questions, bringing textbook experiments to life and solidifying techniques learned in the classroom, which has confirmed my desire to pursue graduate studies. After obtaining my doctorate, I will pursue a career in academia where I can both pursue my research interests and teach others about my passion. During my HHMI Internship, I was inspired by the eagerness and excitement of HHMI Fellows (undergraduates not yet involved in research) when I discussed my project with them, recounted how I got involved in research, and guided them through my lab.
Stanford University's Biosciences program, specifically the genetics department, is the optimal setting to pursue my research interests for a number of reasons. The cross-disciplinary nature of the Biosciences program, containing 13 departments, would satiate my desire to pursue a graduate research project that draws from my varied skills, which range from engineering to genetics. Furthermore, Stanford's collaboration with peer institutions such as UCSF, Berkeley, and UCSC ensures a frequent exchange of fresh ideas, creating a dynamic group of scientists. Finally, Stanford is ideal for my graduate studies because several researchers' interests within the genetics department parallel my own. Prof. Julie Baker's lab is interesting to me because cell fate and signaling played a large role in my research project over the last year, during which I studied tubulogenesis. Prof. Andrew Fire's lab is interesting because they study RNAi, a system I am currently using and would be interested in understanding at the molecular level. Prof. Mark Kay's lab sparks the interest that brought me into genetics to start with by looking at new delivery systems for genetic therapies. There are also many other labs that are appealing at Stanford, and I think I would both benefit from and be an asset to this department.
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The University of Washington McNair Scholars Program is a TRIO Program funded by the United States Department of Education, and the University of Washington, and the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity(OMAD).