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Budding Biologists

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Budding Biologists

Sophomore Jesus Martinez-Gomez and graduate student Kelsey Galimba examine the Thalictrum Thalictroides, a species of flower used in their gene research. 

Jesus Martinez-Gomez has always been fascinated by science. In his first year at the UW, he learned plenty about mutations in plants through his work in a biology lab. But Martinez-Gomez said he would never have had the opportunity to do research there had he not become a part of a new program, Choose Development!, designed by the Society for Developmental Biology (SDB).

Choose Development! is a part of an initiative funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that aims to pair university faculty members with students who might not have the chance to become involved in research as soon as they enter the university.

Ida Chow, executive officer of the SDB, said the program aims to increase the diversity of applicants that enter doctoral programs.

“We want them to feel that … the scientific community is going to welcome them,” Chow said. That’s one of the reasons we want to provide … this extra support.”

Martinez-Gomez is one of 11 SDB Fellows across the country that received the award in late March. Associate professor in biology Veronica Di Stilio and her grad student Kelsey Galimba have helped Martinez-Gomez with his research in the Di Stilio lab. Martinez-Gomez worked in the lab during the summer before his freshman year as a part of the UW Genomics Outreach for Minorities Alliances for Learning and Vision for Underrepresented Americans (GenOM ALVA) project.

Chow said the goal of the program is to keep students interested in biology and to provide funding for students who want to do research for longer than just one summer.

“Our major approaches are to provide longitudinal mentoring instead of having a one-time approach,” Chow said.

Galimba said that as an undergraduate, she struggled to find a research position and learn how to work in the lab. She said as a mentor, she can help students become involved in scientific research early in their academic career.

“It’s hard to get your foot in the door,” she said. “I think that mentors are important for undergrads. You need people there that can try to help you.”

While working at the lab, Martinez-Gomez has worked on understanding mutations in flowers. He is currently studying the “Betty Blake” flower, a mutation that has no petals or stamens. The flower does have an abundance of sepals, the green part of the flower typically located below the petals.

“I really enjoyed my work here, and I applied because I wanted to continue to work here,” Martinez-Gomez said.

Martinez-Gomez will continue working at the lab through his senior year as a part of the Choose Development! program.

“If I hadn’t come to the lab [through] the program, I know I wouldn’t be in a lab position right now,” he said.

Chow said she hopes the program will expand to involve more mentors and welcome more underrepresented students into scientific fields.

Reach reporter Amy Busch at Twitter: @AmyBusch2

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