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Jan. 31: Carnegie Mellon Biological Sciences Student Receives HHMI's Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study


Jocelyn Duffy                      

Carnegie Mellon Biological Sciences Student Receives
HHMI's Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study

PITTSBURGH — Carnegie Mellon University senior Bertrade "Betty" Mbom has been selected as one of five recipients of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study.  The prestigious fellowship provides full support for up to five years of graduate study towards a doctorate in the sciences. The support will enable Mbom and the other Gilliam Fellowship recipients to gain the knowledge and experience needed to address some of the world's health care challenges through a career in research.

MbomMbom, who was born in Cameroon and moved to the United States with her family at age nine, will graduate with her bachelor's degree in biological sciences this spring.  In her graduate work, Mbom plans on studying a group of compounds called Eg-5 inhibitors, which she first started studying in Professor Tim Stearns' lab at Stanford University under HHMI's Exceptional Research Opportunities Program.  These chemicals stop cell division by disrupting the creation of the mitotic spindle - the web-like construction that holds the chromosomes in the center of the cell and then pulls them apart into two daughter cells.  Cells with disrupted spindles die prematurely.  Through her research, Mbom hopes to see if Eg-5 inhibitors could be used as a cancer therapy.  

At Carnegie Mellon, Mbom conducted research in Biological Sciences Professor John Woolford's yeast genetics laboratory.

"As soon as you meet Betty, you know she is a person who is very determined to succeed and who has learned what steps to take to do so.  Betty is relentless in her drive to improve herself and others and to meet any challenge before her," Woolford said. "In addition to her class work and research in the laboratory, Betty has taken the lead to establish the COMPASS program for students mentoring younger minority students at Carnegie Mellon.  The program has the potential to be a powerful legacy for an exceptional student."

COaching Minority Progress and Academic Success in Science (COMPASS) is a mentoring program for underrepresented minority first-year students in the Mellon College of Science (MCS).  Developed by Mbom in collaboration with the MCS Dean's Office and the Carnegie Mellon Advising Resource Center (CMARC), the program provides students with student mentors, informs them about university resources and gives them opportunities to get to know one another.  In addition to this project, Mbom also mentored students from local schools, volunteered as a judge for science fairs, and organized disaster relief work in Mexico and New Orleans. 

Named after James H. Gilliam Jr., a charter trustee of HHMI who spent his life fostering excellence and diversity in education and science, the first Gilliam Fellowships were awarded in 2005.  The HHMI is currently supporting 17 Gilliam Fellows in addition to this year's awardees.