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Selected for the first time as a Beckman Scholar Program Awardee, Emmanuel College is set to bolster its commitment to fostering scientific leaders with a $156,000 grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The College is one of 14 institutions in 2024 that will receive the grant, which will support six outstanding student scientists at Emmanuel over the next three years.

The Beckman Scholars Program (BSP) is a prestigious honor funded by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation which propels its scholars into a unique and academically stimulating research experience. The 15-month program takes place over two consecutive summers and one academic year alongside a faculty mentor, which allows Beckman Scholars to commit to a more intensive and hands-on research project. The total award to support each Scholar is $26,000, which includes a generous stipend and research supplies.

“Each year the applicants for the Beckman Scholars Program put forth outstanding proposals for unique and engaging research programs. Our 2024 awardee institutions were remarkable among that competitive group," said Dr. Anne Hultgren, Executive Director of the Beckman Foundation.

Biotech major Astrid Esperanza Noriega ’26 and Biology major Aaliyah Martinez-Ulloa ’26 will be Emmanuel College’s first two Beckman Scholars – beginning their 15 months of research this summer alongside their respective faculty mentors, Dr. Pádraig Deighan, Dean of the School of Science & Health and Dr. Janel Cabrera, Assistant Professor of Biology.

For two rising juniors with a once-in-a-lifetime experience ahead, both Noriega and Martinez-Ulloa are looking forward to one thing in particular: how the BSP research opportunity will help them build up their self-confidence as researchers and scientists. Read more about Emmanuel's first Beckman Scholars and their preparations for this summer below!

“This is an incredibly prestigious program - the Scholars go through a rigorous selection process and are positioned to move into major leadership positions [in their field] in the future.”

Dr. Pádraig Deighan

Noriega, a first-generation college student, was scared she’d messed up the interview process when in the running to be selected as a Beckman Scholar. Now she’s looking forward to seeing how much she can grow as a scholar and professional with 15 months of independent research under her belt.

“I’ll just be myself. I know what I know,” is what she told herself at the time. She reminded herself of her own belief that everything happens for a reason, too - having put in so much work as a student thus far in her career, she said it’s a great feeling to be getting that back

“It means a lot that they saw enough to invest in me,” Noriega said.

She said she developed an interest in research through previous internship experiences, including her most recent one at Dana Farber Cancer Institute. What the Beckman Scholar opportunity provides her, in addition to unique 1-on-1 lab time with Dr. Deighan, is versatility. Noriega still wants to pursue medicine and research – but on her own time. She also wants to pursue her desire to innovate with her own research and guide that pathways in which the field of biotech can flourish.

Being a Latina, Noriega said, she will also carry her interest in supporting minorities and providing healthcare to traditionally underrepresented groups on with her as she progresses in her career. 

She said it means a lot to her to be able to share her knowledge with her community and that she can be setting an example for “somebody who looks like me.”

Full of excitement to get to work this summer, Noriega’s research will be investigating protein aggregation in bacteria. Certain proteins found in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Dementia patients aggregate into clumps and this leads to a physical breakdown of brain tissue. By studying bacterial proteins that have a related clumping process, the research aims to shed light on the molecular signatures of protein aggregation.

Dr. Deighan, a first generation college student himself, was enthused that ‘team first-gen’ would be the first to generate data on the fundamental project, adding that he is thrilled to serve as Astrid’s research colleague and mentor.

When Martinez-Ulloa received the news that she was selected to be a Beckman Scholar, she said she “barely had a reaction” at first. Having never anticipated getting beyond the finalist stage, she’d accepted not being picked when she first glanced at the email.

But upon reading further and taking time to process, she said she was shocked, and let out an audible gasp in the hallway. Looking toward the summer, she is beyond excited for the experience to cement her longtime interest in research and continue to foster it.

Hoping to pursue Data Analytics and Global Public Health in addition to her Biology major, Martinez-Ulloa wants to follow a career path as a medical scientist to help people, but be able to work as she prefers to: independently, inquisitively, and “behind the scenes.”

She looks forward to one day working on her own advancements, treatments and clinical trials, as well as supporting minorities who have historically had less access to health care and help address the inequity of that access to support “the people who really need it all around the world.”

Martinez-Ulloa will be working alongside Dr. Cabrera on a project studying how genes are regulated during early stages of cell development – she said she was eager to contribute to research that was new to herself, but also relatively new territory for the field. 

“There are so many aspects of Aaliyah that make her an excellent candidate for the Beckman Scholarship,” said Cabrera, “I was particularly impressed with her calm presence during such a stressful [selection] process. It was clear that Aaliyah is extremely knowledgeable and is able to think on her feet. I can’t think of anyone that deserves this opportunity more!”

Her research on the role of epigenetics in turning genes on or off at the correct developmental windows also connects back to her interest in public health, as epigenetics can influence community health outcomes.

With plenty of excitement for the future, Martinez-Ulloa is ready to give herself the time it takes to grow into the Beckman Scholar opportunity in the short term. 

“There’s always room for improvement, she said, “you don’t have to be perfect all the time.”

Keep up with Martinez-Ulloa '26 (left) and Noriega '26 (right) as they embark on their Beckman Scholarship research this summer!