First cohort of Beckman scholars are named
Two Mount Holyoke College students will spend the next year conducting advanced research as part of the Beckman Scholars Program. They will each conduct 15-month, one-on-one mentored research projects with College faculty.
Two Mount Holyoke College students will spend the next year conducting advanced research as part of the Beckman Scholars Program. Erin Desmond ’25 and Illia Kawash-Cooper ’25 are Mount Holyoke’s first cohort of Beckman scholars. They will each conduct 15-month, one-on-one mentored research projects with College faculty.
The students were selected through a competitive process.
Desmond, a biochemistry and anthropology double major from Southborough, Massachusetts, will work on a project called “Optimization of the Bacterial Three-Hybrid Assay Using Self-Cleaving Ribozymes,” and will be mentored by Katie Berry, associate professor of biochemistry, who has developed the three-hybrid assay in her lab. This genetic system allows students to study how RNA and protein molecules interact inside of living cells. Desmond’s project aims to expand this assay to new classes of RNAs that may play a role in bacterial infections and drug resistance.
“I feel honored to have been chosen as one of the College’s first Beckman scholars. I’m excited to have this opportunity to work with my mentor, Katie Berry, and to have two dedicated summers for research,” she said. “I’m most looking forward to spending the time working on my project. I’m also excited to present my work at a conference put on by the Beckman Foundation and to attend a conference of my own choosing that pertains to my specific scientific interests.”
Kawash-Cooper, a chemistry major from Brooklyn, New York, is working on a research project entitled “Investigating Improved Methods for the Synthesis of Acetalated Dextran as a Drug Delivery Molecule.” She will be mentored by Kyle Broaders, associate professor of chemistry. Broaders and his team of student collaborators have been working to design and characterize new materials to deliver drug molecules to specific areas of the body since he arrived at Mount Holyoke in 2014.
“The Beckman Scholars Program is a really amazing opportunity, especially for an undergraduate. We are given the chance to perform research at a level and intensity that is really high,” she said. “One thing I am particularly looking forward to through the Beckman Scholars Program is getting to be part of a greater scientific community of really smart undergraduates beyond Mount Holyoke. This summer at the Beckman symposium, I am looking forward to meeting and connecting with undergraduates from schools across the country, some of whom are as new to the program as me and some of whom have completed their 15 months.”
“Such a big part of research is knowing what your peers and colleagues are working on and combining your knowledge.”
Each student is awarded a $21,000 stipend to conduct research over a 15-month period with their mentor, beginning this summer and continuing through the end of summer 2024.
“The Beckman Scholars Program will advance these students’ knowledge and skills in the fields of chemistry, biology and their interdisciplinary interconnections, positioning the students to pursue graduate education and successful careers in science,” said Lisa Sullivan, provost and dean of faculty. “This program makes it possible for our exceptional students from a wide variety of backgrounds to focus on research and their futures in the sciences.”
Mount Holyoke College was selected as a Beckman Scholars Program awardee by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation for the first time in 2023. The foundation chose Mount Holyoke College and 83 other institutions after a rigorous application process, which included a two-part review led by a panel of scientific experts.
The program recognizes colleges and universities with outstanding science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) credentials and the excellence of their faculty as both researchers and mentors.
The College’s Beckman Scholars Program has been designed to emphasize equity, access and inclusion. In alignment with the foundation’s focus on inclusion, Mount Holyoke is making special efforts to ensure that students who are underrepresented in STEM are encouraged to apply.