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Environmental Factor, August 2012

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Summer intern wins highly competitive NIH scholarship

By Eddy Ball

Yasmin Crespo-Mejias, Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., and Karina Rodriguez, Ph.D.

Crespo-Mejias, left, joined mentors Yao, center, and Rodriguez at her microscope, where she has spent much of her time the past two summers. During her ten-week internship in 2011, she conducted a pilot study on bisphenol A. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Unlike far too many college seniors facing a tough economy, NIEHS intern Yasmin Crespo-Mejias knows exactly where she’ll be after she graduates next spring.

Thanks to an Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) award by NIH announced in July, Crespo-Mejias will spend next summer in Bethesda, Md., as a ten-week summer research employee in an NIH lab. She’ll be working and learning there, as she decides when to fulfill the second condition of her scholarship for up to $20,000 in 2012-2013 education and living expenses at the University of Puerto Rico — spending a year as a full-time research employee in Bethesda or at one of the remote locations, such as NIEHS.

Going into the competition, Crespo-Mejias knew that the odds were about 20 to 1 against her winning. As her notification from program director Darryl Murray, Ph.D., explained, “The UGSP is a highly competitive program for which we receive over 200 applications annually, and you are one of 11 nationwide to become a UGSP Scholar.”

“I was hopeful,” Crespo-Mejias said with her characteristic modesty, “but I never thought they’d pick me.”

A summer home at NIEHS

Now in her second summer at NIEHS working in the Reproductive Developmental Biology Group headed by Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., Crespo-Mejias knows the value of great mentoring by Yao, supervisory biologist Karina Rodriguez, Ph.D., and others in her lab.

Crespo-Mejias also appreciates her summers of learning and discovery under the guidance of senior scientists. “When I went back to school last year,” she recalled, “I was ahead in genetics and reproductive biology, thanks to my training here.”

Combined with her years of hard work in school, that advantage served her well in advancing a career she hopes will culminate in pursuing research as a physician-scientist when she completes an M.D. or M.D./Ph.D. program. She said she might eventually return to work in her native Puerto Rico, where there is a real need for more physicians and well-trained researchers.

With her poster from the Summer Internship Program last year (see story), Crespo-Mejias won a travel award to the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Conference Oct. 27-30, 2011, a feat that no doubt helped set her apart from other applicants for the UGSP award. Crespo-Mejias said she hopes to win support again this year for a trip to make a poster presentation at the upcoming SACNAS National Conference Oct. 11-14 in Seattle.

“I’m very proud of Yasmin’s accomplishment,” Yao said. “I think the scholarship says much about the quality of Yasmin’s research and her solid work ethic, but it also reflects very favorably on the training at NIEHS and the support by NIH for the next generation of biomedical researchers.”

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