Introducing the 10 Illinois students selected as Mayo Clinic's 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows

5/24/2022 4:44:51 PM Hannah Wirth

Each year, Mayo Clinic invites around 180 undergraduates from across the nation to participate in their Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program. Sponsored by the Mayo Clinic Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, this 10-week program gives undergraduates a chance to work at the forefront of biomedical research at one of the world’s leading medical centers. Students work in the laboratories of Mayo Clinic faculty on small research projects or as part of ongoing investigations, attend weekly seminars, and test their inclinations toward a career in biomedical research.

As part of our longstanding collaboration, Mayo Clinic reserves seven spots each year for University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students who are chosen by the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance pre-selection committee. Because students are selected for their innovative excellence, often more than seven Illinois students are invited to participate in this prestigious undergraduate fellowship. This year, we are proud to announce that 10 Illinois students are headed to Rochester, MN, to participate in the SURF program!

We look forward to seeing what these students can accomplish with the combined knowledge and experience gained from their time at two world-class research institutions. We hope that you will join us to learn more about the fellows' research experiences at a poster session in September. Sign up for the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance electronic mailing list for updates and an invitation to the fall poster session.

Abid Anwar (he/him) is a senior James Scholar and Provost Scholar majoring in molecular and cellular biology and minoring in chemistry. At the University of Illinois, he works in Professor Auinash Kalsotra’s lab characterizing the role of epithelial splicing regulatory protein 2 (ESRP2) during liver regeneration. Abid has worked with Metritrack helping to conduct clinical research focused on advancing the current state of breast cancer care through automated solutions for breast ultrasound. Since freshman year, he has worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) at ClarkLindsey Retirement Village and enjoys fostering exciting relationships with patients, caregivers, and healthcare teams to achieve optimal individualized care. Abid has volunteered abroad in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and most recently, Guatemala, where he helped run a medical clinic for their underserved population. He hopes to pursue a career in both medicine and biomedical research, conducting clinical research in the field of hepatology. As a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF), Abid will work with Dr. Nidhi Jalan-Sakrikar, who studies gastroenterology and hepatology, with a focus on biliary and liver regenerative medicine, and more specifically on protein biochemistry in these areas. 

Archit Bajaj (he/him) is a senior James Scholar majoring in molecular and cellular biology. At Illinois, he works in the laboratory of Professor Hee Jung Chung, where research is focused on discovering novel medications for neurological disorders such as epilepsy. Archit is the academic chair at the Phi Chi Pre-Medical Society, a CNA at ClarkLindsey Retirement Village, and a member of the Illini Medical Screening Society (IMSS), an organization that partakes in free health screenings for underserved community members. His goal in pursuing a career in biomedical research is inspired by his experiences working with older patients with dementia and Alzheimer's disease at ClarkLindsey. He wants to learn how new medications and therapies can be discovered to treat such diseases and improve the quality of life for these patients. This summer, Archit will work with Dr. John R. Hawse, whose research focuses on various forms of molecular pathways involved in cancer and how we can use novel medications to inhibit them.

Milica Barac (she/her) is a junior James Scholar majoring in bioengineering at the University of Illinois. As an Illinois student, she works in Professor Andrew Smith’s lab modulating the macrophage phenotype with hopes to create an anti-inflammatory obesity treatment that could prevent further disease development for those who are high-risk. Milica loves figure skating, and though she has stopped doing it competitively, she is still involved in the sport teaching adults and children through the Learn-to Skate program. She is also a Kinesiology 104 instructor. Milica is involved with student programs that work towards addressing factors to decrease health inequalities as a volunteer for the Illini Medical Screening Society, the Food Assistance and Well-Being Program, and the Avicenna Community Health Center. She is also a resident advisor who enjoys building community. Milica hopes to pursue a career that allows her to promote chronic inflammatory disease prevention directly through patient care and indirectly through biomedical research. She hopes to one day advocate for reforms in public health policy to mitigate social factors that worsen health outcomes. As a 2022 SURF, Milica will work in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics with Dr. Arjun Athreya.

Andrew Ding (he/him) is a senior James Scholar with a double major in bioengineering and chemistry and a minor in psychology. At Illinois, Andrew works in the laboratory of Professor Xin Li elucidating the molecular mechanism controlling the sequential temporal transitions in medulla neuroblasts to generate different neural types, using both genetics and genomics approaches. He has also co-authored a review paper titled “Transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of temporal patterning in neural progenitors.” Beginning Fall 2022, Andrew will preside over the Bioscience Journal Club to organize member-led presentations of interesting bioscience papers, invite faculty research panels, and connect undergraduates with research labs. He is a course assistant for BIO 3601 and enjoys facilitating office hours assisting students with difficult topics and fostering a collaborative working environment. Andrew plans to pursue a PhD in bioengineering to become a professor and fulfill both his interest in research and in teaching. His current research interests include stem cell fate specification and cell matrix interactions. As a 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, Andrew will work with Dr. Nagarajan Kannan, which will likely involve using genetic techniques, functional assays, and computational analysis to identify the cellular and molecular mechanisms that guide stem cell fate specification and prevent or promote the development of cancer progenitors.

Moudar Dweydari (he/him) is a junior James Scholar majoring in kinesiology and minoring in chemistry and business. As an Illinois student, he works in Professor Paul Bonthuis’ laboratory investigating the effects of noncanonical gene imprinting in the monoamine neurotransmitter system of the brain. Specifically, his recent work has revolved around evaluating the off-target effects, if any, between parental allele heterozygote mice and their wild type control littermates. On campus, Moudar is the vice president of Action Against Hunger, and a member of the Illinois Medical Screening Society and Phi Delta Epsilon Pre-Med Fraternity. He is very interested in researching heart disease and its implications and hopes to become a practicing physician. This summer, Moudar will work with Dr. Saranya Wyles studying the role of cellular senescence in age-related skin disease and wound healing.

Shreya Rao (she/her) is a senior in the MCB Honors Program and minoring in chemistry. At Illinois, she works in the lab of Professor Steven Blanke studying host-pathogen interactions and how pathogens are able to modulate their host cellular environment for their own benefit. Shreya is involved in Neurotech at UIUC, which focuses on bridging the gap between neuroscience and technology in our community. She is also a part of the FIMRC-UIUC health education committee serving underprivileged communities through volunteer work and health education for younger children. Shreya aims to pursue an MD-PhD pathway, and hopes to research neurological diseases and how their prognosis may be deterred by gene therapy to achieve better outcomes for patients. As a 2022 SURF, Shreya will work in the laboratory of Dr. Stephen Ekker developing and using new genetic tools with a zebrafish animal model to enable a better understanding of the human genome.

Will Reiser (he/him) is a senior James Scholar and BEST scholar in the MCB Honors Program and minoring in chemistry. As an Illinois student, he works in Professor Christopher Brooke’s lab studying the influenza A virus, specifically viral protein dynamics for the viral neuraminidase protein. On campus, Will is the vice president of the Block I football student section and is responsible for planning events and creating and executing the card stunts at halftime of every home game. He is also the secretary of MCB Leaders, a philanthropic organization that raises money for local charities and mentors both prospective and freshman biology students. Will hopes to gain experience in translational research, pursue an MD-PhD, and delve deeper into the intersection of the current standard of care and the scientific advances that progress that standard of care. This style of research encapsulates the “bench to bedside” standard of care, in which it is crucial to keep the patient in mind when developing new therapies. As a 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, Will will work with Dr. Shruthi Naik using digital spatial profiling of bladder tissue to characterize the impact of local virotherapy in bladder tumors.

Royal Shrestha (he/him) is a senior James Scholar in the Molecular and Cellular Biology Honors Program. At Illinois, he works in the laboratory of Professor Huanyu Qiao researching the pathway and mechanisms in which homologous pairing of chromosomes happens independently of recombination. Last summer, Royal was a 2021 Community-Academic Scholar, working with an academic mentor and a mentor from a community organization to pursue a community-based research project in Urbana-Champaign. Currently, Royal serves as president of the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children UIUC Chapter and assistant news editor and reporter/writer for the Daily Illini covering major events happening around campus. Much of his research on campus has dealt with cancer and infertility and he plans to pursue an MD-PhD in cancer research working in a clinical setting.  This summer, Royal will work with Dr. Antonio D’Assoro researching basic and translational breast cancer research.

John Wei (he/him) is a senior majoring in computer engineering. As an Illinois student, he works in Dr. Yogatheesan Varatharajah’s laboratory and is interested in machine learning with healthcare. John is a member of the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSEA) and assists with hosting Esport competitions between schools. While he is interested in pursuing a career researching machine learning and healthcare, he is specifically interested in working with, but not limited to, neurology data. As a 2022 SURF, John will work with Dr. Raymond Iezzi developing an augmented-reality based technology that automatically detects blood vessels in retina.

Andrew Zhang (he/him) is a senior James Scholar with a double major in Molecular and Cellular Biology Honors and chemistry. At Illinois, he works in the laboratory of Professor Huimin Zhao with his mentor, Che Yang, discovering new ways to use gene-editing tools like CRISPR to edit genes in heterochromatin, which are normally inaccessible to gene-editing. On campus, Andrew is the social chair of the American Chemical Society (ACS), and in addition to helping organize and plan social events, he tutors and mentors students and participates in local outreach by sharing chemistry demos. He is also a involved with REACT, a university organization with a mission to show children why science is interactive and fun, visiting local schools and hosting chemistry events. Andrew aims to obtain an MD-PhD to conduct biomedical research. He is interested in combining clinical and scientific knowledge to push the frontiers in treating diseases, especially highly prevalent metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Because these metabolic disorders affect many people and their families, there is a pressing need to give the best treatments possible. This summer, Andrew will work in the laboratory of Dr. Isobel Scarisbrick with his mentor, Dr. Monical Langley, to study type 1 diabetic mouse models and the effects on neurological diseases, like multiple sclerosis.

Future Programs

At the end of the 2022 program, the fellows shared why they applied to the SURF program, the impact of the experience on their academic or career goals, and advice for future participants in the program. View photos and learn what the fellows had to say about their summer undergraduate research experience at Mayo Clinic.

The 2023 Illinois SURF pre-selection application period opens October 1, 2022. For more information about the Illinois pre-selection and application process for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows, visit the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance website and contact LeaAnn Carson at with questions.

To receive notifications about the SURF program and other Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance news, subscribe to the Alliance mailing list