Meet the nine Illinois students selected as 2024 Mayo Clinic Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows

4/3/2024 10:43:35 AM Amy Clay-Moore

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 nine Illinois students will be participating in the SURF program!

The students in this cohort bring a variety of experiences and credentials to the table. Many of the students are already engaged in cutting-edge biomedical research here at Illinois. Others are working to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion and to address needs like housing and access to resources. We also have a couple of musicians in the cohort!

We look forward to seeing all that these students accomplish with the combined knowledge and experience gained from their time at two world-class research institutions. We invite you to join us to learn more about the fellows' research experiences during a poster session at the Beckman Institute in September. Subscribe to the Mayo Clinic & Illinois Alliance mailing list for updates on educational opportunities and an invitation to the fall poster session.

Matt BeardMatt Beard (he/him) is in the Integrative Biology Honors program with minors in chemistry and bioengineering. He is also a James Scholar, Legacy Scholar, and a We CU Community-Engaged Scholar. Matt currently works in the lab of Illinois Entomology Professor Brian Allan on research to analyze the transmission dynamics of vector-borne diseases across rural and urban settings. He is also actively involved in the Illinois Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and the Cancer Scholars Program. This summer, Matt will be working with Dr. Evanthia Galanis at Mayo Clinic on the development and testing of a vesicular stomatitis virus-based vaccine against the La Crosse virus. He plans to pursue a doctorate in bioengineering with a focus on using genetically modified organisms to develop pharmaceuticals.

Divya BendigeriDivya Bendigeri (she/her) is a James Scholar majoring in bioengineering with a minor in computer science. Divya is involved in the Biomedical Engineering Society as well as the Society of Women Engineers, where she will take a leadership role next academic year. At Mayo Clinic, Divya will be working with Dr. Matthew Urban to study how measurements of elastic and viscoelastic mechanical properties acquired with noninvasive ultrasound shear wave elastography might be used to relate to features from protocol biopsies in kidney transplants. Divya is interested in biomechanics and computational biology. She plans to pursue graduate education in the fields of bioinstrumentation or biomechanics.

Jack CarltonJack Carlton (he/him) is pursuing a degree in animal sciences. Jack works in the lab of Illinois Professor Matthew B. Wheeler on regenerative medicine research focused on the effects of strontium concentration on osteogenic differentiation potential of adipose-derived stem cells. Jack is also a volunteer at the Wildlife Medical Clinic at Illinois and serves as a Pre-Health Ambassador at the Career Center. Jack’s Mayo Clinic mentor will be Dr. Douglas G. Brownfield, whose research focuses on using generative medicine to improve pulmonary disease. Jack plans to pursue an MD-PhD so that he can split his time between treating patients and researching the applications of regenerative medicine.

Alexander ChangAlexander Chang (he/him) is studying bioengineering with a minor in music. He works in the Mobility and Fall Prevention Laboratory (MFPRL) with Professor Manuel Hernandez, focusing on investigating tremor data collected by wearable accelerometers on people with Parkinson's disease. Alexander is actively involved in the Biomedical Engineering Society as a workshop coordinator and a member of the Engineering Open House committee. At Mayo Clinic, Alexander will work with Dr. Ahad M Siddiqui, whose research focuses on ways of regulating the immune system to help promote regeneration of the nervous system. Alex plans to pursue an MD-PhD and focus on finding new treatments for neuromuscular conditions like Parkinson's disease and dystonia.

Yasmine KhanYasmine Khan (she/they) is a James Scholar and Chancellor’s Scholar studying bioengineering with a minor in chemistry. At Illinois, she works in the lab of Professor Catherine Best-Popescu to develop a machine-learning algorithm to segment and quantify the glioblastoma tumor microenvironment. Outside of the lab, Yasmine enjoys songwriting and playing guitar. At Mayo Clinic, they will be working in the Neurovascular Research Laboratory with Dr. Ram Kadirvel. Yasmine plans to pursue a PhD in bioengineering with a focus on bioartificial tissues and xenotransplantation.

Esha KulkarniEsha Kulkarni (she/her) is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in bioengineering. She works in the lab of Illinois Professor Auinash Kalsotra on a project characterizing Epithelial Splicing Regulatory Protein 2 (ESRP2) in the context of drug induced acute liver injury. Esha also serves as a student representative on the Grainger College of Engineering's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee. At Mayo Clinic, she will be working with Dr. Elizabeth Ann L. Enninga to better understand the role that paternity plays on maternal immune responses. Esha plans to pursue a doctorate in bioengineering and hopes to address women's health issues with research in immunoengineering or microfluidics.

Delaney MarringaDelaney Marringa (she/her) is a James Scholar studying mechanical engineering with a minor in biomolecular engineering. At Illinois, Delaney works in the lab of Professor Brendan Harley where they are examining how stem cells interact within their bone marrow microenvironment. Delaney is also involved in Women in Mechanical Science and Engineering and serves as a Women in Engineering Advisory Board Liaison. Delaney’s Mayo Clinic mentor will be Dr. Maryam Rettmann whose work focuses on image-guided interventions in cardiovascular medicine. Delaney plans to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering.

Rene MohammadiRene Mohammadi (she/her) is studying mechanical engineering. She works in the lab of Professor Brendan Harley on a project using 3D bioprinting methods to develop hydrogel-based models of endometriosis lesion etiology and progression. Rene is president of the Illinois chapter of the Engineers in Action Bridge Program and serves as a Mechanical Engineering Learning Assistant for the Grainger College of Engineering’s First Year Experience. At Mayo Clinic, she will be working with Dr. Marina Walther-Antonio on research using microbiome signatures to predict and intervene in gynecologic cancers prior to the development of malignancy. Rene's goal is to become a research professor in bioengineering, contributing to groundbreaking advancements in women's health and microbiology.

Varshini MurugeshVarshini Murugesh (she/her) is a James Scholar, Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholar, and a Filler Scholar majoring in bioengineering and minoring in chemistry. As an Illinois student, she works in the Chemical Imaging and Structures Laboratory under Professor and Cancer Center at Illinois Director Rohit Bhargava, using Fourier-transform infrared imaging in the context of digital histopathology and tracking muscle differentiation. Varshini is a chemistry teaching assistant, and a member of the Cancer Scholars Program. She is interested in using clinical and translational science to directly treat and prevent disease. This will be Varshini’s second year in the Mayo Clinic SURF program, where she will return to the Stem Cell and Cancer Biology Laboratory under Dr. Nagarajan Kannan. As a 2024 SURF, she will work with single-cell RNA sequencing to understand potential fetal microchimerism in female mammary tissue.