UMBC BUILD Trainees Take Center Stage at Largest-ever Undergraduate Research Symposium

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By Sarah Hansen


The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s (UMBC’s) College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences (CNMS) hosted its 21st Undergraduate Research Symposium (URS) in the Chemical and Biological Sciences this fall. The event has been growing steadily, and this year set new records: Students from more than 40 institutions in eight states and the District of Columbia presented nearly 300 projects, and more than 200 additional guests attended. The presenters included 68 current STEM BUILD Trainees and four former trainees. Eight current and former trainees took home first or second place awards in their judging groups.


“It is so inspiring to see hundreds of undergraduate researchers coming together to present research to fellow students, mentors, and faculty judges,” shared CNMS Dean Bill LaCourse. “I wish everyone had the opportunity to feel the students’ energy and excitement, as many presented for the first time.”


Senior Aleem Mohamed, a member of the STEM BUILD Training Program, presented at URS for the first time in 2016. This year, he and his research partner, senior Ilzat Ali, won first place in their judging group. Mohamed and Ali’s research focuses on figuring out how genes in bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacterial cells) affect a close relative of the bacterium that causes tuberculosis.


As HHMI-SEA Undergraduate Researchers, the duo worked with HHMI investigator Viknesh Sivanathan. Their mentor guided them as they got their project started, preparing them to branch out on their own. Mohamed said the experience “has made me develop a love for the research field I didn’t know I had, and has made me want to do research in my career.”


Senior Joanna Lum presented work she completed during a summer Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and earned second place in her judging group. Lum investigated pathways that regulate viruses that may be involved in initiating cancer.

Gaining early exposure to research and receiving substantial mentoring from a community of scholars through the BUILD program have helped Lum find her way, she explained. Because of that support, “not only am I able to overcome many obstacles in the classroom and in the STEM field, I am also able grow in confidence and see myself as a scientist,” she said.


Lum’s experience with BUILD helped prepare her to apply for other programs, and now she is a MARC U*STAR Scholar.


“You are a better scientist now than you were yesterday,” Fernando Vonhoff, a pre-professoriate fellow in biological sciences at UMBC, told the presenters at the end of the day. Award or not, “Science is about the process, rather than the final outcome. Participating in this event and being exposed to so much good science during the whole day has been part of your process.”


“I am confident that this event will have a lasting and positive impact on all those that participated,” added LaCourse, “and UMBC and the college are proud to sponsor this symposium in support of our future scientists”—including our ascendant STEM BUILD Trainees.


For the original story, visit the UMBC website.

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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