Two PSC Graduate Students Awarded Prestigious Meyerhoff Fellowships

Awards provide financial assistance and unique networking opportunities to students from underrepresented groups pursuing graduate degrees in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

By Malissa Carroll
November 21, 2014

Alecia Thomas and Louise Djapgne, graduate students in the PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) program at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, have been named Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows. Housed at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program was established in 1996 to increase diversity among students pursuing doctoral degrees in biomedical and behavioral sciences.

“Alecia and Louise’s superior academic performance, passion for pharmaceutical sciences, and diverse backgrounds make them excellent additions to the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program,” says Sarah Michel, PhD, associate professor in PSC and director of the PSC PhD program, who nominated Thomas and Djapgne for the fellowships. “This prestigious program will provide them with invaluable learning and networking opportunities and elevate their research to the national stage. Our faculty members are proud of their accomplishment and look forward to witnessing their scientific contributions.”

Born in Jamaica, Thomas immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from UMBC in 2012, and later worked as a post-baccalaureate scholar at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where she studied protein structures in one of the Institute’s crystallography laboratories. She enrolled in the PSC PhD program in 2014, and is currently participating in a research rotation with Angela Wilks, PhD, professor and vice chair for research in PSC.

“Alecia is a very intelligent and inquisitive young scientist,” says Wilks. “Her passion for pharmaceutical sciences is evident to anyone who interacts with her in the classroom or the lab. She has a very bright future ahead of her, and her participation in the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program will be a wonderful asset as she continues to grow as a researcher.”

As a first-year student in the PSC PhD program, Thomas received a full one-year fellowship from the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program, which includes tuition remission, insurance coverage, and a stipend. She also participated in a six-week summer workshop hosted by the program to help cultivate her skills as a researcher and writer, and will attend the program’s monthly meetings to share her research and learn about the research being conducted by the program’s other participants.

Following the first year, Thomas will continue to participate in a number of the program’s activities, including its weekly journal club, special retreats, as well as traveling to conferences supported by the program.

“Being accepted into the Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program represents the start of a great journey for me, as the relationships that I will build during my time in the program are sure to last a lifetime,” says Thomas. “I am very grateful to my former professors and peers from UMBC, who encouraged me to start on the path that has led me to where I am today, as well as to Dr. Michel for nominating for the fellowship. I’m excited to participate in this program, and look forward to learning from and networking with other researchers from a wide range of disciplines.”

Like Thomas, Djapgne, who is a native of Cameroon, also received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from UMBC in 2012. A third-year student in the PSC PhD program, she works in the laboratory of Amanda Oglesby-Sherrouse, PhD, assistant professor in PSC, studying small ribonucleic acids (sRNAs) in Pseudomonas aeruginosa (P. aeruginosa), an opportunistic pathogen that commonly affects individuals with cystic fibrosis and other immunocompromising conditions.

“It has been a pleasure serving as Louise’s advisor and mentor in the PSC PhD program,” says Oglesby-Sherrouse. “She is a smart, dedicated, and hardworking student, and this fellowship represents a stepping stone to the many other remarkable accomplishments that she is sure to achieve throughout her career. I truly feel fortunate to have the opportunity to watch her grow and develop as a pharmaceutical scientist.”

Djapgne’s fellowship covers expenses associated with traveling to national conferences. She will also attend the program’s summer workshop and monthly meetings with Thomas to learn from and network with other participants in the program.

“This award provides an excellent opportunity for me to travel across the country, attend scientific conferences, present my research, and learn about what other researchers are doing in their fields,” says Djapgne. “It feels great to have this opportunity to further enhance my education without worrying about the additional expenses that are often associated with traveling to these events.”

The Meyerhoff Graduate Fellows Program is open to students in the United States from all cultures and backgrounds who are interested in the advancement of underrepresented groups in the biomedical and behavioral sciences. It currently includes 79 students from colleges and universities across the country, including Stanford University, Emory University, and Duke University. Individuals who have completed the program often go on to pursue postdoctoral fellowships at prominent organizations, such as the National Institutes of Aging, National Institute of Mental Health, and the Food and Drug Administration.

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