Farmworkers’ son active in UC Davis research wins prestigious NIH scholarship

Man in lab coat, goggles and gloves in a chemistry lab.
A biochemistry and molecular biology major, Abraham Corrales has been awarded the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and committed to careers in health-related research.

The stinging sweat and all-over aches from picking blackberries one summer tutored young Abraham Corrales of Watsonville in the harsh realities he’d already experienced as the youngest of 10 children of migrant farmworkers.

“When you’re in the fields, you understand how everyone who’s working there really suffers just to put food on the table,” he said. “That’s what made me change my perspective on education.”

Today, the UC Davis junior has distinguished himself as one of only 16 recipients nationwide of a prestigious National Institutes of Health scholarship on his way to developing therapies to promote the health of agricultural communities like his own.

A biochemistry and molecular biology major, Corrales has been awarded the NIH Undergraduate Scholarship for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and committed to careers in health-related research.

It’s in the lab of Associate Professor of Pharmacology Elva Díaz that Corrales is working this summer. “I’m extremely excited for him,” she said. “It’s an honor for him. It’s an honor for me to have him in the lab.”

Paying for university

Corrales will receive a renewable annual award for up to $20,000 in tuition and educational expenses. For each year of the scholarship, he will receive paid summer research training at the NIH and, upon graduation, a year’s employment at an NIH research lab.

It all helps, said the 20-year-old. He is paying for his education through Cal Grants, the University of California’s Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, other scholarships and the fruits of a savings habit instilled by his father.

Corrales’ parents encouraged him to work hard in school and consider college. “Even though they didn’t know anything about school, they knew I had to go,” he said.

The door to Corrales’ career cracked open when, during a high school lesson on different jobs, he volunteered to find out what a biomedical researcher does. “It kind of interested me,” he said.

Corrales knew he wanted to help his community, and what he learned influenced him to turn his future educational aspirations from medical school to graduate school. “Doing research in medicine is still helping people, but it’s behind the scenes.”

Undergraduate research

When he was still in high school, he participated in the UC Davis high school summer math and science program, COSMOS, where he was introduced to research labs. He’s been active in research ever since.

Through the California Alliance for Minority Participation at UC Davis, he has taken advantage of research opportunities and participated in workshops to help him succeed in university and prepare for graduate studies.

Corrales also participates in CURE, a mentoring and research program that fosters diversity in the cancer research community. In the Díaz lab since June 2013, Corrales has been studying the regulation of cell proliferation with an aim to develop novel therapeutic targets for medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer common in children.

He plans to earn a doctoral degree in biomedical research. Influenced by how his father was disabled from complications of type II diabetes, Corrales ultimately wants to develop a way to make medication more affordable.

“Increasing the opportunities for low-income people to afford the necessary medication is my motivation. No one deserves to see loved ones pass away because of a lack of money.”

The Undergraduate and Prestigious Scholarships office provides information, resources and support services to students applying for highly competitive, merit-based scholarships and fellowships, like the NIH award Corrales received.

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Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248,