News & Recipients
Celebrating 2022 Goldwater Scholar Faculty Mentors
It is a truism that inspiring mentors make a difference. The day Alexandria (Alex) Brady-Mine (Mechanical Engineering ‘23), Caitlyn Coleman (Microbiology and infection control ‘23), and Cole Gibson (Physics ‘23) were named USF’s 2022 Barry M. Goldwater Scholars, this truism once more stood in high relief in the minds of the scholars and all who were associated with the preparation of their applications.
Apropos, we celebrate here the mentors who collectively guided these students to their success in the Goldwater competition and continue to shape their intellectual journeys.
Alexandria Brady-Miné's Mentors
Alexandria was not thinking of engineering when she was in high school in Gainesville. She had just completed the initiative called “Rainbow Readers,” which sent care packages and books to children affected by the earthquakes in Haiti and was more interested in human rights work than science. Then, she stumbled upon an article on 3D printing of solid organs. The article discussed how 3D bioprinting could be improved to mitigate—perhaps even eradicate— the heinous practice of organ trafficking. She felt very inspired and sought out a connection to Thomas Angelini who was pioneering 3D bioprinting at the University of Florida. Finding Alex eager, energetic, and hard-working, Angelini took the unusual step of welcoming Alex into his lab as a research assistant. He became Alexandria’s first research mentor. Alex co-authored her first scientific article “Capillary Forces Drive Buckling, Plastic Deformation, and Break-Up of 3D Printed Beams,” which was showcased on the cover of the 14th issue of the journal Soft Matter in 2021. The intellectual growth and skills-training in the Angelini Lab was arguably the reason that Alex could begin research almost immediately upon joining USF in the Gallant Group, headed by USF professor of mechanical engineering, Nathan Gallant. Alex gradually grew from apprentice to the point-person for the project on Developing Smart Polymers for Enhanced Cell Adhesion and Growth. Ever since reading that article on bioprinting, Alex has aspired to work on the key challenge in bioprinting: to grow and stabilize cells which can “stick” to a printing substrate. Nathan Gallant’s guidance has helped Alex to take a step closer to understanding this problem.
Harold Hatch, of the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), at first glance may not seem to fit into the story of bioprinting. But he too, over a short period during Alexandria’s stint as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) at NIST Gaithersburg, mentored her to develop a skillset she otherwise could not have gained in her experimental work: computational modeling of fluids and solids in assembly, which in the end are what the substrates for 3D printing are made of. Hatch, himself a 2017 Goldwater Scholar, was very encouraging of Alex’s pursuit of the Goldwater Scholarship when Sayandeb Basu, the Director of USF’s Office of National Scholars and USF’s Goldwater Scholarships campus representative, decided to endorse Alex for the award. He remains in touch with Alex and USF and is eager to support her in the next phase of her journey.
Caitlyn Coleman's Mentors
It began with a tube of cheese. Caitlyn’s fascination with microbes engaged in both adversarial and beneficial roles with humans was birthed late junior year of high school when she explored curdling agents which produce the largest volume of cheese in the shortest time. She found an ideal foil—and soon to be mentor—in Richard Pollenz, professor of cell and molecular biology at USF, when she was selected to USF’s HHMI SEA PHAGES program, which Pollenz led. SEA PHAGES is an undergraduate research program for beginning STEM majors where students isolate, characterize, amplify, and visualize a novel bacteriophage (viruses which infect bacteria). Each student who successfully isolates a phage also gets to name it. Pollenz opened more than the world of bioinformatics—the use of computers and codes to find patterns in genomes—for Caitlyn; it was his style of engaged and hands-on teaching that inspired Caitlyn to declare that she would “join the professoriate with strong commitments to teaching, mentoring, and supervising undergraduate and graduate students” in future (quoted from the official Goldwater Scholarship Press release).
The training in bioinformatics, especially as it relates to viral genomics, became the reason for Caitlyn’s selection to the 2021 Cornell University Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program, designed to train future leaders in STEM. It was there that Caitlyn would meet her next group of mentors, lab-leader and professor Cedric Feschotte and his post-doctoral associate Jonathan Nicholas Wells. Under their inspiring mentorship, and a fun and welcoming atmosphere at Cornell, Caitlyn made significant strides on what she had taken from the SEA PHAGES experience to develop a bioinformatics pipeline which could excavate the prevalence of zinc finger proteins, the largest and most diverse family of transcription factors – proteins capable of turning on or off gene expression in Metazoans. A manuscript of this work is in preparation for publishing. Caitlyn presented this work at several national conferences, and Feschotte was delighted to support her oral presentation at the 2022 National Council of Undergraduate Research Conference as well.
And speaking of excavation, Caitlyn has also been engaged in a bioarcheology study with Andrea Vianello who has been at USF since 2020 as a research fellow in the Department of Anthropology. In this work, Caitlyn contributed first to literature review on proteomics and metabolomics and genomics in bioarcheology as a grounding to explore the drivers of the medieval pandemic otherwise known as the Black Death from bone samples curated from the Old Lazaret in Venice. Vianello has taught at the Judy Genshaft Honors College, and he too has welcomed Caitlyn to teach the sessions on proteomics in his course on ancient pandemics.
Cole Gibson's Mentors
Cole started his journey in undergraduate research during COVID-19. This itself speaks volumes about his mentors’ commitments to persist with undergraduate research in trying circumstances. Jacob Gayles, himself a freshman assistant professor, Dario Arena, an experienced hand in the study of magnetism in thin films, and post-doctoral associate Bushra Sabir would successfully guide Cole through the next year and half in state-of-the-art approaches to the study of novel magnetic materials which can revolutionize magnetic storage and memory.
Gayles made little distinction between a graduate student and a talented but inexperienced undergraduate when he asked Cole to learn about cutting edge work in magnetic skyrmions in novel materials. Skyrmions are so-called topological structures which enhance exotic electronic properties of certain materials that depend on a quantum mechanical attribute of the electron—distinct from its charge—called spin. Gayles strongly encouraged autonomy and independence, which for Cole translated to learning from daily trials and tribulations. Yet, this was the most effective way of picking up a difficult subject early in his career. He was ably supported by Bushra Sabir, the group’s post-doc.
Dario Arena provided Cole with the experience to understand how his theoretical work interfaced with experimental work on magnetic films. His mentoring promoted a key understanding about the synergy of experiment and theory and grounded Cole in the most important lesson a young physicist can learn: physics is above all an empirical science, and theory has little value until and unless it can explain observed puzzles and predict testable results. Cole is on his way to publishing two papers from his work and was recently awarded for his presentation at the American Physical Society March Meeting, which Jacob Gayles strongly encouraged him to attend and mentored him on the steps to succeed in a key national professional research society meeting.