Two University of California, Davis, juniors are among the winners of the nation’s premier undergraduate award of its type in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
Maya Mysore of Rocklin, California, and Keely Ji of Sunnyvale, California, have been named Goldwater Scholars. The scholarship, which provides up to $7,500 for college expenses, honors the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater and is designed to encourage outstanding students to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. It was awarded to only 410 of 1,256 applicants nationwide for the 2020-21 academic year.
Both Mysore, a biomedical engineering major, and Ji, majoring in cell biology, aim to earn M.D./Ph.D. degrees. While their research areas are different, the two scholars share similar goals to inform their research with clinical practice. Both students have participated in multiple research projects at UC Davis and have their sights set on research that will directly address human disease.
Engineering Surgical Implants to Treat Chronic Disease: Maya Mysore
Mysore plans to earn an M.D./Ph.D. with the intention of practicing medicine and running a medical research lab with a focus on developing technologies and cellular-level medical solutions to treat chronic illnesses that will help patients to live longer, better lives.
Mysore began her UC Davis research career in Sean Collins’s lab, where she studies cells called neutrophils and their relevance to treating diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. In the student-run BioInnovation Group, where Mysore is vice president, she led a project based on cell encapsulation via hydrogels. And through an internship in the cell culture lab at Genentech, she learned how the manufacturing process translates research and development into useful products. Together, she says, “These three experiences have allowed me to practice the fundamental, translation and manufacturing-scale aspects of research.”
Although her future is in research, Mysore views earning the MD as an essential part of the kind of work she wants to do: researching and developing medical innovations for patient use. “Essentially, I want to practice medicine, determine the unmet clinical needs for my patients and work within my lab to develop technologies that address those needs.
“Since I expect my work to require surgical implantation, having a knowledge of surgical procedures would allow me to be a liaison between the device development team and the surgeons who would then implant it,” she says. “If I work on immunosuppressant gel implants for the rest of my life, then it would be valuable to have a strong background in a medical field such as rheumatology or geriatrics.”
The Biology of Cancer Cells: Keely Ji
Ji’s goal is to earn an MD/Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology in order to advance the understanding of cancer biology and develop improved cancer therapies. She has been engaged in cancer research since high school, beginning in the Molecular Medicine Research Institute to develop combination therapy for prostate cancer. The summer following her freshman year, she joined Chang-il Hwang’s lab, where she has been researching familial pancreatic cancer. Over the last two years, she has been focusing on developing models that can better emulate patients with familial pancreatic cancer and investigating potential personalized cancer therapies for these patients.
While her early interest in cancer research was sparked by a family member’s rapid death from liver cancer, and the fear that caused in her family, she says, “the more I read about the disease, [the more] I became fascinated by its complex and stubborn nature.”
Her motivation to earn the M.D./Ph.D. stems from her observations of what she describes as a gap between the lab and the clinic. “Having a full understanding of the human body and the diseases will train me to see the human pathologies with a broader lens and consider the interactions that the disease has with the different body systems. This additional perspective will allow me to better recapitulate the disease and develop therapies with reduced side-effects.”
Ji provides mentorship to K-12 students through SEND4C, which aims to address disparities in STEM education. In high school, she says, “I naturally gravitated toward the sciences, which provided me with answers and structure, showing me beauty within the world that otherwise seemed chaotic.”
Ji’s research has been funded by the Provost’s Undergraduate Fellowship; the College of Biological Sciences Dean’s Circle Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship; and the Maximizing Access to Research Careers program, which works to increase the number of underrepresented, disadvantaged and disabled students who become leaders in biomedical and behavioral research.
About the Undergraduate and Prestigious Scholarship Office
The Undergraduate and Prestigious Scholarships office at UC Davis assists high-achieving students in applying for 26 of the most prestigious national and international scholarships. As this year’s winners, Mysore and Ji are the 28th and 29th students from UC Davis to be named Goldwater scholars and among the seven in the last four years, including Jayashri Viswanathan (biochemistry and molecular biology) and Naomi Murray (ecology, evolution, and biodiversity) in 2020, Analisa Milkey (biological sciences) in 2019, and Joleen Cheah (biological sciences) and Osamu Yasui (biomedical engineering) in 2018.
Sharon Campbell Knox is director of communications for Undergraduate Education.
Photo caption: UC Davis juniors Keely Ji, left, and Maya Mysore are among the 409 students across the country who have won Goldwater scholarships. (Courtesy photos)
Julia Ann Easley, UC Davis News and Media Relations, firstname.lastname@example.org, 530-219-4545