Beckman Scholars Program

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation is a nonprofit foundation established for the purpose of supporting basic scientific research, primarily in the fields of chemistry, biochemistry and medicine. In 1997, the Beckman Foundation initiated the Beckman Scholars Program to support the research potential of outstanding undergraduate students in these fields.  Each year, the Beckman Foundation invites universities within the United States to apply, and selects approximately 10-12 universities to provide continuous 18 month support to exceptional undergraduate students.

Villanova University is pleased to be one of the eleven institutional recipients of the 2017 Beckman Scholars Program Award. Over the next three years, five Villanova undergraduates majoring in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Geography and the Environment, or Environmental Science will be selected to be Beckman Scholars.

Emma

Emma Lang, majoring in Biology and Spanish (2018), will be studying “The role of the transcription factor Pdc2 in Ascomycota thiamine biosynthesis regulation” with her faculty mentor, Dennis Wykoff, Professor of Biology and Dennis M. Cook Endowed Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics. Thiamine (also known as vitamin B1) is essential for energy metabolism and, if cells do not have thiamine they die. Ms. Lang will examine how the Pdc2 transcription factor has evolved to upregulate the genes required for thiamine synthesis.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the fungus necessary for winemaking, baking and brewing, can make thiamine, but a similar, closely-related yeast, Candida glabrata, lacks the ability to produce thiamine. Both species regulate thiamine metabolism using the transcription factor Pdc2. However, in S. cerevisiae, Pdc2 also regulates sugar breakdown, and Pdc2 is essential for survival. C. glabrata is an emerging fungal pathogen that causes yeast infections, thrush, and most dangerously, in immunocompromised individuals, sepsis. Understanding the function of genes that regulate thiamine synthesis provides an appealing entry into designing antifungal medications against C. glabrata. Preventing C. glabrata growth by starving it of thiamine may help the 30% of individuals with systemic Candidiasis do not survive the fungal infection. Ms. Lang’s detailed study of the evolution of function of Pdc2 in these two yeast species, in addition to four other species will provide important new insights into antifungal drug research development. Ms. Lang will be determining which species’ Pdc2 are capable of performing the function of inducing the transcription of thiamine synthesis genes and which are capable of inducing the critical sugar breakdown genes. She will then use a mutant screen to attempt to convert the C. glabrata Pdc2 into a transcription factor that now regulates sugar breakdown genes as well. Ms. Lang’s work will identify how the specificity of Pdc2 has evolved over time and should clarify the role of Pdc2 in metabolism in C. glabrata.

 

Kali

Kali Carrasco, '19, Biology, is focusing on research on the molecular genetics and cellular biology of aging with her Faculty Mentor, Professor Matthew Youngman.   

Are aging humans fated to the same slow decline as older machines, suffering the ill effects of wear-and-tear? Not necessarily, at least according to studies of aging in roundworms called Caenorhabditis elegans, whose genetic makeup is remarkably similar to humans. Studies of older worms suggest that perhaps more than breaking down from long-term use, the functional decline of tissues that occurs later in life is  driven by lower expression levels of the genes responsible for maintaining cellular health and defending against environmental stresses—these genes are turned down or are completely off later in life. Along with its role in metabolism, insulin modulates gene expression by regulating the activity of a protein called DAF-16 in C. elegans, a close relative of the human FOXO3a protein, that functions as a transcription factor. Like light board operators at a Broadway show, transcription factors work inside the nucleus of cells where DNA is housed to flip the switches on genes, adjusting their level of expression (their “brightness”). The specific genes that DAF-16 controls are important for immunity and stress resistance, among other functions, and higher expression levels of these genes extend the worm’s lifespan. Understanding more about how DAF-16 functions during adulthood may one day lead to treatments to keep the protective genes turned on for longer, which could improve health in advanced age.  

In younger worms DAF-16 appears to wait for the cue of exposure to an environmental stress before it takes action. Work in Dr. Matthew Youngman’s lab in the Department of Biology, however, suggests that another cue seems to come during aging even in the absence of stress, as early in adulthood DAF-16 turns on at least some of the genes that it controls. Defining the nature of this age-dependent, constitutive activation of DAF-16 is the ultimate goal of a project undertaken by Kali Carrasco (Biology, ’19). Specifically, Kali will test the idea that in adult worms a protein called DAF-18 must counteract insulin’s inhibitory signal to allow DAF-16 to do its job. If her hypothesis is correct, adult animals without DAF-18 will lose the immune protection conferred by DAF-16 and will be more susceptible to bacterial infections. Accordingly, she expects to find that DAF-18 is necessary for DAF-16 to gain access to the light board—that is, to regulate its target genes. Since the human version of DAF-18, known as PTEN, plays a role in the development of prostate cancer, Kali anticipates that her studies will not only provide mechanistic detail regarding the control of gene expression during aging but they will also have implications concerning the molecular events that underlie tumor progression. 

This Award will provide a total of $130,000 to support five undergraduate research students and their faculty mentors from May 2017 – August 2020. One student will be selected to begin in Summer 2017, with two additional students selected in each of the next two years. Beckman Scholars can choose to work with any of the 11 faculty mentors from the Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Geography and the Environment.

The research will be performed part-time (ten hours per week) during the academic year and full-time over two summers before and after the academic year. Scholars must be able to commit to the entire time period to be eligible to receive an award. Once selected to be a Beckman Scholar, a student will retain the funding as long as he/she continues to excel academically, is in good academic standing, and his/her research work shows satisfactory progress.

Total award per student is $21,000, and additional support from CLAS:

BECKMAN SCHOLAR

BSP support

CLAS support

Summer 2017 (FT)

$6,800

Summer Room and Board

Academic Year (10 hrs/wk)

$4,600

 

Summer 2018 (FT)

$6,800

Summer Room and Board

Supply and travel (distributed as needed)

$2,800

If needed

Summer 2019 (optional, FT)

 

$3500 Stipend and $500 supplies

Each selected faculty mentor will receive an additional $5,000 stipend for travel, supplies, and fees related to the Scholar’s research.

Aside from remuneration, this program allows Beckman Scholars to participate in the Villanova Undergraduate Research Fellows Program offered through the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF) without submitting an additional application to CURF.  Examples of the program include:

  • Training and workshops: In topics such as responsible conduct of research, an introduction to library resources, writing resumes and personal statements, applying to graduate schools and assistance with nationally competitive scholarships, and communicating science
  • Participation in summer research colloquium to have practice with oral presentations in preparation for presenting findings at external conferences
  • Presentation of the senior thesis at Villanova’s annual Spring Research EXPO poster session, attend the Beckman Symposium, and present their research findings at a minimum of one national or international conference (with College of Liberal Arts and College support if needed). 
  • Faculty mentors and CURF will support Scholars to submit their research for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

Scholars will also be expected to mentor younger students in the lab, and participate in Beckman Scholar Program evaluations throughout their experience and after graduation. 

To be eligible for consideration students must:

  • Be citizens or permanent residents of the United States or its possessions
  • Be a full time student majoring in Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Geography and the Environment, or Environmental Science
  • Hold a minimum GPA of 3.8
  • Continue to be an enrolled undergraduate through at least Spring quarter 2018
  • Be available to participate as researchers as follows: Full-time Summer 2017; Part-time during Academic year 2017-18; Full-time Summer 2018. Note: students graduating Spring 2018 are eligible to apply as long as they are committed to full-time participation in Summer 2018, immediately following graduation.

Eligible applicants are most likely Sophomores, but First year students and Juniors are also eligible to apply. 

The Beckman Scholars Program is strictly limited to the following Mentors. Each Mentor has specified their research area listed below. A rank order of 2 potential Mentors should be provided in the cover letter.

Department

Research Area

Name

Biology

Ecosystem Biology

Samantha Chapman

Biology

Global Change Ecology

 

Adam Langley

Biology

Evolution of Signal Transduction Pathways in S. cerevisiae and C. glabrata

Dennis Wykoff

Biology

RNA Biology in Fertility and Inheritance

Elaine Youngman

Biology

Aging, stress, gene regulation

Matthew Youngman

 

 

 

Biochemistry

Regulation of the Nrf2 transcription factor and its target genes by oxidative stress and therapeutics

Aimee Eggler

Biochemistry

Protein Degradation by the Proteasome

Daniel Kraut

 

 

 

Chemistry

Analytical / Environmental Chemistry

Amanda Grannas

Chemistry

Medicinal Chemistry, Natural Products Chemistry

Kevin Minbiole

 

 

 

Geography and the Environment

Peatland Ecosystem Ecology

Melanie Vile

Geography and the Environment

Ecosystems Ecology and Biogeochemistry

Nathaniel Weston

Each Beckman Scholar may be invited to attend the Annual Research Symposium at the Beckman Center of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering in Irvine, California for each of the two summers of their award term; a formal notification and invitation will be sent separately. The 2017 Beckman Symposium will be held August 3 – 5, 2017.

All second-summer scholars will be asked to exhibit their research through poster presentation:

  • Each year, several scholar speaking slots will be available during the symposium.
  • Scholar speakers will be nominated by a Mentor, and final selection made by the Foundation. Requests for scholar nominations with submission guidelines to be provided in advance of the symposium.
  • One Mentor from the Faculty Mentor pool may be invited to attend the Beckman Symposium each summer of the Award. The selection of Villanova University’s Mentor attendee will be requested in advance of the symposium to account for appropriate travel and hotel accommodations. It is the Foundation’s preference that a different Mentor attend each summer, throughout the term of the award.

The next round of application will occur in early Spring 2018, check back then.

Application requirements include:

  1. A personal statement 
  2. A standard Curriculum Vitae/resumé demonstrating a history of laboratory or relevant course work and past research experience (if applicable)
  3. Unofficial transcript(s)
  4. Letters of recommendation from two Villanova faculty members, at least one of whom has supervised you in research or in a teaching lab. 
Section Process:

Finalists will be chosen by a selection committee based upon academic performance, prior research experience (if applicable), and career motivation. The goal of the selection committee is to choose the strongest applicants who have the potential to be outstanding research scholars, preparing them for admission into the finest graduate programs in their respective disciplines. The committee will scrutinize application materials to identify students who are passionate about scientific research and possess the skills and motivation to succeed.
 
Finalists will be notified to meet with prospective research mentors to discuss available projects, faculty goals, expectations, and student motivations.
 
After the finalist has selected a faculty mentor, the student will be interviewed by the selection committee. Particular attention will be paid to the student’s understanding of and dedication to the proposed research project. Scholars must be able to commit to part-time research (ten hours per week) during one academic year and full-time over two summers (ten 40-hour weeks each summer) immediately before and after their academic year of part-time research experience.

“I have done more for science in general by making instruments available for thousands to use than what I could do in my laboratory by myself.” - Arnold O. Beckman, PhD

Dr. Beckman always considered the greater good, whether it was through his scientific innovations, business dealings or personal relationships. The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation holds steadfast to the directives of Dr. Beckman and his wife Mabel, his values, and the mission of the Foundation. Dr. Beckman believed strongly in reinvesting in science and research, supporting the up and coming scientists and looking for the future “Arnold Beckmans” of the world. In turn, the Foundation tasks each recipient of an Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation award to employ a similar “pay it forward” philosophy by promoting the legacy of Dr. Beckman, his values and his scientific contributions through their interactions in the scientific community and the world. Award recipients fulfill this task by serving as Dr. Arnold O. Beckman’s living legacy and, as a means of continuing Dr. Beckman’s mission for the sciences, recipients with demonstrated expertise in their area of research are called upon to serve on review committees and panels, lending their scientific expertise to the further development and evolution of the Programs supported by the Foundation.

Rules for Success

Arnold O. Beckman, PhD

1. Absolute integrity at all times.

2. There is no satisfactory substitute for excellence.

3. Everything in moderation…including moderation itself.

4. Only by taking risks do you make progress.

5. Never do anything to harm others.

6. Never do anything for which you will be ashamed later.

7. Don’t take yourself too seriously.