Rowan’s first NIH U-RISE fellows celebrate Commencement

Rowan’s first NIH U-RISE fellows celebrate Commencement

From left, Arielle Gsell, Kali Pierson, Aryanna Copling, Yesenia Flores and Tajrian Khan

The first five fellows in the U-RISE at Rowan University training program tossed their tassels during this week’s Commencement ceremonies, representing another milestone in the University’s rapid rise toward becoming a Carnegie-classified R1 institution, among the nation’s most active research universities.  

Supported through the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Rowan’s Undergraduate Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (U-RISE) program launched three years ago to develop a diverse pool of undergraduates interested in pursuing biomedical, research-focused higher degree programs. 

Fellows receive an annual stipend to help with living costs for three years during their research training, as well as scholarships to assist with tuition and fees. They also receive student health coverage, if needed, and a travel allowance, so they can attend a conference each year.  

The program equips students with the necessary tools for success following graduation, including a faculty mentor, hands-on research experience and opportunities for summer research experiences at R1 universities, noted Dr. Jennifer Ravelli, program administrator and assistant dean for student affairs in the College of Science & Mathematics. Rowan’s U-RISE students have secured summer research internships around the country, including Stanford and Rice universities.

“It has been a remarkable journey for these students,” Ravelli said. “It is amazing to have seen them grow.”

All five have developed into “bona fide, mature scientists,” said Nucci, co-director of the U-RISE program. “Along the way, these students have also taught us. They’ve given us a great sense of what they need, what they don’t need and how we can support them best. I think that is benefiting the students who are coming behind them in really important ways.” 

Kali Pierson majored in molecular and cellular biology in the College of Science & Mathematics and plans to earn a Ph.D. in immunology and cancer biology. The U-RISE fellow, who has already co-authored multiple manuscripts, said working in the lab of Dr. Nathaniel Nucci inspired her to become a scientist.

“The most impactful experience that I’ve had throughout U-RISE was meeting all of the amazing people who are not only involved in the program…but also getting the opportunity to meet other scientists who inspired me to continue my journey toward obtaining my Ph.D.,” Pierson said.  

Arielle Gsell majored in biomedical engineering and worked with Dr. Sebastián L. Vega at the Henry M. Rowan College of Engineering. She plans to begin a Ph.D. program at Boston University in the fall. 

“As a first-gen student who wanted to pursue a career in research but didn’t have the necessary tools or guidance on my own,” Gsell said, “I knew that U-RISE would be a great way to understand what biomedical research really looks like and give me the mentorship and knowledge on how to continue on into a Ph.D. program.”  

“I had the privilege of mentoring two of the five inaugural Rowan U-RISE fellows, and they are both authors in peer-reviewed manuscripts, presented at national conferences, and are starting Ph.D. programs this fall,” said Vega, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. “I’m so proud of them.”

The first cohort also includes Aryanna Copling, a translational biomedical sciences major who will begin a Ph.D. program at Temple University; Yesenia Flores, a biological sciences major who completed a prestigious summer research program at the University of Chicago; and Tajrian Khan, a molecular and cellular biology major who is heading next to a funded master’s degree program at Virginia Tech. 

Flores plans to continue her research in genetics, molecular genetics or epigenetics, an interest she developed while working in the lab with Dr. Benjamin Carone, associate professor of biological and biomedical sciences. Her U-RISE experience gave her “a taste of innovative research done among mentors and peers who fueled my love of science and discovery,” Flores said. 

“It’s a program that is about more than just science, but really about developing scientists,” added Dr. Thomas Keck, U-RISE co-director and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, molecular and cellular biosciences in the College of Science & Mathematics. “I anticipate that every one of these students as they go onto their graduate programs are going to realize just how much they have learned already.”