Misha Fini

Misha Fini Lab PhotoMisha Fini working in the lab.

Honors College Sophomore Earns Prestigious Undergraduate Research Award

In 2018, Misha Fini, an Honors College sophomore majoring in microbiology, received the Goldwater Scholarship - one of the United States’ oldest and most prestigious national scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics. The Goldwater Scholarship seeks to identify and support college sophomores and juniors who show exceptional promise of becoming the next generation of research leaders in these fields. Established by Congress in 1986 to honor Senator Barry M. Goldwater, the award provides $7,500 for educational expenses and research support. Misha became USF’s ninth Goldwater Scholarship recipient and was chosen out of almost 1,300 applicants across the country. She was one of only three Florida public university students to receive a Goldwater Scholarship last year.

Misha is a native of St. Petersburg, Florida and began her research career in her freshman year at USF working with Dr. James Garey in his molecular biology lab. They worked together to understand the microbial ecology of Florida aquifers, including the relationship between microorganisms and their environment.

The summer after her freshman year, she participated in an internship at Moffitt Cancer Center through their Summer Program for the Advancement of Research Knowledge (SPARK) Program, which provided ten weeks of intensive research study with one of the nation’s leading scientists at Moffitt. After the Program ended, Misha stayed at Moffitt to continue conducting research under her mentor and Principal Investigator (PI) of the project, Dr. Kenneth Wright. Their work investigates the causes of a formation of a protein that contributes to Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer that is estimated to take the lives of 20,000 people each year.

Misha began her studies at USF with an aim to become a medical doctor. However, after her participation in the SPARK program and research with Dr. Wright, she redirected her focus to conduct research that could lead to medical breakthroughs. The Goldwater Scholarship will help Misha continue her research and pursue a career goal of obtaining a PhD in Cancer Immunotherapy and becoming a university PI herself.

“I’d like to work toward a better understanding of how the human body’s immune systems all work together to eradicate pathogens and how this can be used to defeat cancer,” she says. “This research has the potential to lead to new treatments and improve the quality of life for so many.”

Although Misha has been successful in her research endeavors at USF, academic achievements have not come easily for her. She struggled to read and write when she was younger. “Due to constantly moving around in second grade I was unable to read,” says Misha, who currently maintains a 4.0 GPA. “I could barely read picture books that had three words per page, and I was placed in a special reading program for students who were behind.”

She refused to let her circumstances dictate her path. “I was tired of being made fun of in class and put down by teachers who didn’t allow me to read books due to my poor reading level. I began borrowing books from the library and reading to my mother every day, asking about words or phrases I did not understand,” she says.

Misha’s determination led to academic success. “Eventually, I was able to keep up with my classmates,” she says. “Overcoming a personal challenge motivated me to push forward in higher education. I want to ensure no student is left behind, and serve as a mentor in my field.”

Misha first learned about the Goldwater Scholarship through the university’s Office for Undergraduate Research and worked extensively with USF’s Office of National Scholarships (ONS) to create and refine her application.

“The Office of National Scholarships gave me the guidance I needed when applying for the Goldwater Scholarship,” she says. “Dr. Basu worked tirelessly with me on the application and his guidance made a tremendous difference.” 

“It is wonderful to see Misha’s success,” says Honors College Dean, Dr. Charles Adams. “Undergraduate research is both valued and promoted throughout our university and it is great to see how our faculty and staff have supported, and continue to support, Misha as she pursues her dreams.”

In the future, Misha plans to help other students who are interested in learning and growing in their research fields. “I see value in encouraging alternative learning styles, such as those I utilized to improve my reading skills,” she says. “I want to foster an environment where students feel free to engage in collaborative and experimental thought.”

This story is featured in the 2019 edition of Legacies.