UGA Honors student chosen for Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s research program

UGA Honors student chosen for Howard Hughes Medical Institute's research program

Athens, Ga. – Opeoluwa Fawole, a sophomore microbiology major at the University of Georgia, has been selected to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program this summer. Fawole, who is an Honors student from Lawrenceville, is the first UGA student to receive this honor.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a non-profit medical research organization and one of the largest philanthropies in the United States, seeks ways to advance biomedical research and strengthen science education through its various initiatives. The EXROP program was created in 2003 to encourage and support outstanding undergraduate researchers by providing them mentored research opportunities with leading HHMI scientists. EXROP participants must be nominated by HHMI members.

“EXROP is one of the most prestigious summer programs available to talented undergraduates who want to pursue a career in scientific research,” said Susan Wessler, UGA Foundation Chair in the Biological Sciences and an HHMI Professor who nominated Fawole. “In addition to a generous stipend, students are able to choose the lab they want to work in from a long list of HHMI investigators nationwide.”

Fawole, who does not know which one of her five top lab choices she will receive yet, will be conducting biomedical research for approximately ten weeks at her HHMI research mentor’s home institution. She also will have the opportunity to participate in academic and cultural activities during her visit. In return, Fawole will present her research project during a poster session of next year’s EXROP meeting.

“I believe that the EXROP experience will be a great one since you have a chance to choose an HHMI investigator from a list of almost 200 from all over the country,” said Fawole. “This program will give me more exposure to the research field, broadening my biomedical research views and helping me define my future career goals. I am thankful to Dr. Pamela Kleiber in the Honors Program and Dr. Susan Wessler for nominating me and giving me this great summer opportunity.”

As an undergraduate researcher at UGA, Fawole currently participates in the Apprentice Program of the Honors Program’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities (CURO). She is investigating the genetic behavior of Plasmodium falciparum, a mosquito-transmitted parasite that can cause the most severe cases of malaria in people.

Working in the infectious diseases laboratory of Dr. David Peterson since her freshman year, Fawole is currently focusing on placental-associated malaria to find how the malaria parasite survives in the face of the developing immune response.

“Ope is a very dedicated student, works diligently in the lab, participates in lab meetings, and has already presented her work at a national conference,” said Peterson, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Being chosen for the HHMI’s summer research program will provide a fantastic opportunity for Ope to gain additional research experience and to network with peers from around the country.”

“The CURO Apprenticeship prepares Honors students such as Ope Fawole during their first two years at UGA to compete at a national level with the best students in the country,” added Pamela Kleiber, associate director of the Honors Program, who coordinates CURO programs. “The opportunity that Dr. Wessler’s EXROP nomination has provided Ope will take her to the next level in her preparation as a scientist. Dr. Wessler has opened a huge door for Ope.”

After Fawole graduates from UGA in spring 2011, she would like to attend medical school and one day travel to underdeveloped countries to offer her medical services.

For more information on UGA’s Honors Program and the Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities, see http://www.uga.edu/honors.

For more information on the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program, see http://www.hhmi.org/exrop.