USF Prepares Students for Study at Oxford

Oxford Story ImageFrom left: Alejandro Navas, Janine DeBlasi, Justin Doherty (all Honors College graduates), and USF's first Clarendon Scholar, Kayla Li.

 In fall 2018, four prestigious scholarship recipients embarked on fully funded graduate programs at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom. Among them were three Frost Scholars, Janine DeBlasi, Justin Doherty, and Alejandro Navas (all Honors College graduates), and the University of South Florida’s (USF) first Clarendon Scholar, Kayla Li.

Kayla, who is from Clearwater, Florida graduated from USF with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences. She accomplished this in three years at the age of 20, and with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Her impressive academic credentials led Oxford to admit her to their Master of Science degree in Clinical Embryology, in the Department of Women’s and Reproductive Health, and award her a Medical Sciences Graduate School Studentship. Soon after that, she was awarded the Clarendon Scholarship. Together, these prestigious awards subsidized her studies at Oxford.

The Clarendon Scholarship is funded by Oxford University Press and aims to give the world’s most academically accomplished students the life-changing opportunity to study at Oxford, where they will form lasting social, academic and professional networks.

As a Clarendon Scholar, she is among an elite group of students who currently represent more than 70 different countries. “I feel very honored and grateful for the opportunity to study at such a prestigious university alongside some of the brightest students in the world from so many diverse backgrounds,” says Kayla. “The intellectual stimulation and the cultural experience that Clarendon offers is exactly what I hope to gain during my time at Oxford.” 

“I would not have been able to network as easily without the program,” she says. “I am also excited for the different events hosted by the Clarendon Scholars' Association, such as academic symposiums and cultural outings.”

Her goal is to eventually become a Neonatologist and Director of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Kayla feels she was a strong contender for admittance to the University of Oxford and the Clarendon Scholarship thanks to the assistance she received from Ms. Lauren Chambers, Associate Director of the Office of National Scholarships (ONS). “I cannot thank Ms. Chambers enough for the patience and consideration she showed me throughout my work with ONS,” she says. “Her guidance truly helped me become a better professional.”

Also working with ONS were USF’s three recipients of the Frost Scholarship. This generous award is sponsored by Governor Pat Frost of the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida. Governor Frost and her husband Phillip provide funding for a limited number of students from Florida’s four-year public universities and the University of Miami to study for a full-time one year master's degree in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields at Oxford.

Among these Frost Scholars is Janine DeBlasi, an Honors College senior who majored in cell and molecular biology. Originally from Wesley Chapel, Florida, Janine was also a 2017 nominee for the Marshall Scholarship, one of America’s most prestigious national scholarship awards. She is grateful for the guidance and support she’s received from her research mentors, as well as her ONS advisors - Dr. Sayandeb Basu (Director), Ms. Lauren Bartshe-Hanlen (Assistant Director), and Ms. Lauren Chambers (Associate Director).

For her Honors College thesis, Janine conducted innovative research at USF’s Morsani College of Medicine. She says, “I studied the effects of high-dose vitamin C and high-pressure oxygen on glioblastoma (brain cancer) cells, and also assisted with projects on cancer cachexia (a wasting syndrome sadly seen in many patients), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and central nervous system oxygen toxicity. I also was fortunate to assist on NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations 22 - a mission that sends a small group of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in Aquarius, an undersea research lab, for up to three weeks at a time.”

At Oxford, Janine is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Radiation Biology in the Department of Oncology. Her career goal is to purse a PhD in cancer biology and become a Principal Investigator (PI) of a translational lab.

Alejandro Navas, an Honors College senior majoring in physics, is a Frost Scholar from Tampa, Florida, who performed groundbreaking research at USF as a team member of Dr. Brian Space's physical chemistry lab – also known as the Space Cadets. “We developed and used programs to simulate and investigate how fluids interact with certain materials - in particular, we focused on selective sorption processes, whereby the material traps some chemicals while others flow through relatively freely,” he explains. “These processes are especially interesting for efficient gas storage and separation technologies.”

At Oxford, Alejandro is pursuing a Master of Science degree in Nature, Society and Environmental Governance in the Department of Geography and the Environment.

After graduating from Oxford, he will attend law school at Stanford University. Alejandro plans to help develop and implement climate change mitigation policy in the U.S. “The work I intend to do will help look after geographically and economically vulnerable people in these regions,” he says.

Justin Doherty, an Honors College graduate who majored in chemistry from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the third Frost Scholar from USF. He completed his Honors College thesis project under the mentorship of Dr. Hua Pan at the USF Health Heart Institute, where he investigated therapies to attenuate the renal and cardiovascular toxicities that arise from chemotherapeutic regimens. Of his project, Justin says, “We sought to evaluate the therapeutic potential of a nontoxic nanoparticles pre-treatment, to mitigate cisplatin-induced acute kidney injury in pre-clinical models.”

Cisplatin-based chemotherapy remains one of the most commonly used regimens for the treatment of carcinomas of the bladder, ovaries, head and neck, and esophagus. However, cisplatin-induced AKI is a dose-limiting side effect that occurs in up to 30% of patients receiving the drug. “This research has important translational value,” he explains. “This therapy could potentially allow patients to safely continue their cisplatin regimens longer and positively impact their anti-cancer treatment outcomes.”

Justin presented his research in a poster and an oral presentation at the Experimental Biology 2018 meeting in San Diego. He will now continue developing his research skills under the supervision of Dr. Joanna Hester with Oxford’s Transplant Research Immunology Group.

“I learned about this spectacular program and the Frost Scholarship by working with Dr. Sayandeb Basu, Director of ONS,” he says. “This award is allowing me to pursue a Master of Science degree in Integrated Immunology from the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, which will add to my knowledge base and make me a more effective future transplant surgeon.”

After completing his studies at Oxford, Justin plans to attend medical school with a special interest in transplantation, and will do so holding an advanced degree from the institution named the top university in the world for the second consecutive year by The Times Higher Education Global Rankings.

Justin is hopeful for the future of cisplatin cancer treatment. “This research has important translational value,” he explains. “This therapy could potentially allow patients to safely continue their cisplatin regimens longer and positively impact their anti-cancer treatment outcomes.”

These three Frost Scholarship recipients bring the total number of USF Frost Scholars to 12 out of 49 awarded in the program’s five-year history, the second highest number awarded in the state of Florida.

Collectively, all four of these impressive USF graduates are creating a legacy of international impact and academic excellence. Oxford’s global focus, pursuit of new knowledge, and passion to improve the quality of life for others aligns perfectly with the undergraduate experience at USF.

This story is featured in the 2017-2018 edition of Legacies.