Four UC Riverside Students Awarded Prestigious Fellowships

Exceptional Research Opportunities Program fellowship makes it possible for students to work in top labs this summer

From left to right: Jaime Coronado, Katherine Espinoza, and Thomas Rodriguez. Alyssa Rodriguez is not pictured.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( – Four undergraduate students at the University of California, Riverside have won fellowships from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), administered by the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). The fellowship provides opportunities for the students to participate in cutting-edge research over the summer, and is geared toward students who come from racial, ethnic and other underrepresented groups in the sciences, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“With the EXROP fellowship, these four students will be working in the very best biomedical labs in the country and rubbing elbows with top graduate students and postdoctoral associates,” explained Susan Wessler, distinguished professor of genetics at UCR. “Based on the experiences of past EXROP recipients from UCR, each of the recipients will return to UCR in Fall 2016 with a new perspective on research and their place in the scientific enterprise.”

The recipients of the fellowship include Jaime Coronado, Katherine Espinoza, Alyssa Rodriguez, and Thomas Rodriguez. All four students also participate in the University Honors Program.

Wessler nominated the students for the fellowship with the help of Richard Cardullo, the faculty director at University Honors, and Jim Burnette, an academic coordinator and director of the Dynamic Genome program.

“Each of these students had two things going for them – they had a compelling personal story and significant research experience under their belts,” Wessler explained. “Of all the students interviewed for this fellowship opportunity, they were selected because they were most likely to benefit from the experience.”

More about the students

Jaime C

Jaime Coronado

Jaime Coronado is a transfer student from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, majoring in biochemistry. He started his journey believing he wanted to major in the arts or music. But having always been interested in the sciences, specifically chemistry, by his sophomore year he knew he wanted something else, and that was to become a research scientist.

The summer leading into his junior year, Coronado was accepted into the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program hosted at the University of North Texas. “During those ten weeks, my decision to pursue a research career was solidified. I wasn’t finding the cure to cancer or anything like that, but I was contributing to what felt like a fulfilling field.”

By the following year, after loading up on extra courses, he transferred to UCR and was able to participate in research in the STEM Pathway Program in the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

“And, when I found out that I had been accepted to participate in HHMI’s EXROP, I couldn’t stop thinking about where I would go and who I would conduct my research under. I love learning new things so I’m beyond excited to be in a new lab and hopefully help answer some new research questions,” he said.

Coronado said this opportunity would not have been possible without the support and guidance of the honors program, his mentors, and the STEM program.

Katherine E

Katherine Espinoza

Katherine Espinoza is a third year, neuroscience major. She started off as a psychology major, but soon realized she was more interested in the neuroscience aspect of psychology. “Through the University Honors program, I was introduced to the dynamic genome laboratory course and that allowed me to understand what scientific research was like and I became interested in the dynamic genome scholars summer program,” she explained.

Espinoza said the program encouraged her to learn more about her research interests and pursue research related to her major. She is excited about the EXROP fellowship as it will provide an opportunity for her to expand her knowledge of neuroscience discover what she is most passionate about.

Alyssa Rodriguez is a third year, biochemistry major. She said she didn’t notice her passion for science until she was a junior in high school, while taking an AP Chemistry course. “After a few tests I realized that my brain is wired to understand science. And when my AP Chemistry teacher fostered my interest and encouraged me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in science, I knew it was the right thing to do,” she explained.

Rodriguez said she was in shock when she found out she was awarded the EXROP fellowship, but incredibly thankful for the opportunity to immerse herself in research. “No part of me thought that I would receive this opportunity. I’m so excited to partake in research at a well-respected university,” she said.

Rodriguez added that it wouldn’t be possible without the help of Wessler, and the University Honors program which made the building of connections possible.

Thomas Rodriguez

Thomas Rodriguez

Thomas Rodriguez is a third year student majoring in biochemistry, with an emphasis in medical science. He said his interest in science grew as a high school student, enrolled in an AP chemistry course. As a Mexican-American, he is the first in his family to pursue a higher education, and he plans to continue. “I was very excited to learn that I was awarded the EXROP fellowship, especially since I plan to pursue a M.D./Ph.D. dual degree to become a physician scientist,” Rodriguez explained.

He said his interest lies with human anatomy and physiology, hoping to perform research in areas that may lead to finding cures for human diseases. “I believe that this program will make me a very competitive student, while also giving the greatest opportunity to work with high-level scientists at top schools.”

More about the EXROP fellowship

Each fellowship includes a $5,000 award, 10 weeks of full-time research in the lab of an HHMI scientist, all travel and housing costs, and attendance at two HHMI meetings. In the spring recipients will be matched with an HHMI scientist. The fellowships aim at ensuring that a diverse and highly trained workforce is available to assume leadership roles in science.

Since EXROP’s inception in 2003, nearly 800 undergraduates from more than 150 colleges and universities have been matched with nearly 215 HHMI investigators, professors, group leaders, and early career scientists. Of the over 500 EXROP alumni who have earned a baccalaureate degree nearly 230 went into graduate programs.

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-5893
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Additional Contacts

Susan Wessler
Tel: (951) 827-7866

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