Introducing the 11 Illinois students selected as Mayo Clinic's 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows

5/27/2021 12:25:11 PM

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 get to 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 U. of I. students are invited to participate in this prestigious undergraduate fellowship. This year, we are proud to announce that 11 U. of I. students are headed to Rochester, MN, to participate in the SURF program!

This cohort boasts some notable undergraduate research credentials, including first author publication and design and development of projects for Engineering Open House – a one hundred-year-old University of Illinois tradition that typically draws around 20,000 attendees each year (though it has looked remarkably different the last couple of years). They have also worked with some of the University of Illinois’ most accomplished researchers in engineering and the social and life sciences.

This cohort of fellows is also creative and invested in their community. There are students involved in music, dance, and theater. Several students are also involved in service work on campus and in the community, including two EMTs, a community health center volunteer, and a student who started an organization to help U. of I. students struggling with stress and isolation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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.

Meet the Fellows

Neha ArunNeha Arun (she/her) is a junior majoring in molecular and cellular biology with a minor in music. At the University of Illinois, she works in Professor Collin Kieffer’s laboratory. Neha dances and serves as director of video production with Truth and Beauty, a group that promotes dancers of all backgrounds through K-Pop dance. She also serves with the UIUC chapter of the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children. Neha plans to pursue a career doing research in immunology/virology. As a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow, Neha will be working with Andrew Badley, M.D., whose research focuses on virus-host interactions; in particular, on how viral proteins modify the host-immune response and on cell survival.

Evan DrayEvan Dray (he/him) is a junior working toward a double major in chemistry and molecular and cellular biology honors. Evan plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. in pharmacology to support his career in translational oncology/pharmacology research. Evan’s work in the laboratory of Professor Daniel McKim has resulted in a first-author publication in Molecular Immunology. Evan is also involved with the Life + Career Design Lab at Illinois as an LAS 101 instructor and mentors first and second year students in biology and chemistry. Evan will be working with David Daniels, M.D.,Ph.D., in the laboratory of experimental drugs and therapeutics for pediatric brain tumors.

Edward HuangEdward Huang (he/him) is a senior in the Integrative Biology Honors program with a minor in chemistry. Edward is interested in the discovery of antimicrobial systems in nature and how such mechanisms paired with genetic-engineering techniques can inspire tenable solutions for the looming antibacterial-resistance crisis. He plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. in immunology. At the University of Illinois, Edward works in Professor Huimin Zhao’s laboratory. He is the president of the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children as well as Research Unit Leader and lead EMT for Illini Emergency Medical Services. At Mayo Clinic, Edward will be working with Adrian T. Ting, Ph.D., who is conducting research on tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and developing its potential as a revolutionary immunotherapy for cancer treatment.

Victoria Kindratenko (she/her) is a junior in bioengineering, on the cell and tissue engineering track with a minor in electrical engineering. Victoria volunteers with Avicenna Community Health Center. This spring, she was a co-lead for an Engineering Open House team that designed, programmed, wired, and built a robotic hand. Victoria is also a research assistant in the laboratory of Professor Rashid Bashir, Dean of The Grainger College of Engineering. Victoria plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. in regenerative medicine with the intent to develop biomedical devices and equipment that can aid in the body’s natural healing process and improve patient outcomes. She will be working with Alexander Revzin, Ph.D., on a range of projects, spanning from biosensors for disease diagnostics to regenerative medicine and stem cell research.

Vincent LamVincent Lam (he/him) is a junior studying bioengineering with a minor in chemistry. At the University of Illinois, he works as an undergraduate research assistant in the laboratory of Professor Joseph Irudayaraj. Vincent presented research from his work with Prof. Irudayaraj at this year’s University of Illinois Undergraduate Research Symposium. He also led an Engineering Open House team that designed and programmed a neural interface between an EEG headset and electronics embedded into live cockroaches. Vincent plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. in bioengineering to develop better methods of stem cell-based therapies. This summer, he will be working with Quinn Peterson, Ph.D., to develop directed differentiation protocols to generate pancreatic islet cell types and identify new drugs that modulate pancreatic function.

Sarah MatatovSarah Matatov (she/her) is a junior working toward a biochemistry and psychology dual degree as well as a minor in chemistry and a certificate in computer science. At Illinois, Sarah is an undergraduate research assistant in the laboratories of Professor Auinash Kalsotra and Professor Kara D. Federmeier. Sarah is an editor for Brain Matters, the on-campus neuroscience journal, and a certified EMT-B. In the future, she hopes to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. in biochemistry to study the mechanisms of neurodegenerative disorders. Sarah will be working with Marissa Schafer, Ph.D., who studies cellular senescence and how it relates to Alzheimer's disease and develops therapies for clearing the body of senescent cells to alleviate the Alzheimer's phenotype.

Ege Gungor Onal (he/him) is a senior studying bioengineering. At the University of Illinois, he has worked in the laboratories of Professor Brian Cunningham and Professor Shuming Nie. Besides being an active member of the Cancer Scholars program, Ege is the founder of COVID-Pals, a peer-support organization that students can contact when they are feeling the stress and isolation of COVID-19. He plans to pursue a career in developing novel therapies for cancer. Last year, Ege participated as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow in Mayo Clinic’s virtual program, working with Kathryn A. Knoop, Ph.D., on developing a theoretical mouse model study for investigating how the gut microbiome plays a role in CAR-T cell therapy toxicity and Venkatesh R. Bellamkonda, M.D., to investigate gender disparities in healthcare delivery. This summer, Ege will serve as a co-facilitator of the online portion of the SURF program in addition to working with Michael F. Romero, Ph.D., to study ion-solute movements across cell membranes and working with drosophila models.

Danny Owen (he/him) is a senior majoring in bioengineering with a concentration in cell and tissue engineering. At the University of Illinois, he serves as an undergraduate researcher in Professor Gregory Underhill’s laboratory. Aside from research, Danny is heavily involved in the theatre community on campus, and currently serves as president of Illini Student Musicals. Danny hopes to enroll in an M.D.-Ph.D. program so that he can work with patients and develop a career in research. This summer, Danny will be working with Lewis Roberts, M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D., to conduct clinical research with patients who have hepatocellular carcinoma.

Vongai TizoraVongai Tizora (she/her) is a senior majoring in bioengineering. Vongai plans to become a physician in order to address health inequities. Currently, she is the president of the National Society of Black Engineers – UIUC Chapter, a philanthropy chair of Alpha Omega Epsilon, and a 2021 Knights of St. Patrick Award honoree. Vongai’s first research experience was through Professor Rohit Bhargava's laboratory. This summer, Vongai will work with Andre van Wijnen, Ph.D., to improve clinical outcomes for patients with musculoskeletal disorders, in part through controlling the cell fate of mesenchymal stem cells.

Angelia WiltonAngelina Wilton (she/her) is a senior studying molecular and cellular biology and psychology. At the University of Illinois, Angelina works in Professor Hee Jung Chung's laboratory. She is an undergraduate teaching assistant for the Chemistry Merit Program, and student director for a new online social work team at Avicenna Community Health Center. Angelina plans to pursue a career in medicine or biomedical research. This summer, Angelina will be working with (Illinois Alumnus) Arjun Athreya, Ph.D., M.S., and Richard Weinshilboum, M.D., on a variety of projects involving antidepressants, pharmacogenetics and pharmacogenomics, and the application of artificial intelligence to some of those topics.

Andrew ZhangAndrew Zhang (he/him) is a junior in the molecular and cellular biology honors program. At the University of Illinois, he also works in Professor Huimin Zhao’s laboratory. Andrew serves as a board member for the Illinois student chapter of the American Chemical Society. He also writes for Illinois' Brain Matters journal.  Andrew is interested in pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. in biomedical sciences. This summer, Andrew will work with Isobel Scarisbrick, Ph.D., to identify cellular and molecular mechanisms contributing to injury and repair processes in the spinal cord as therapeutic targets to improve neurological recovery.