3 UConn alumni to be new YIIP scholars

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Three University of Connecticut alumni have been selected to be part of the Young Innovative Investigator Program (YIIP) Scholars. 

YIIP, created by the Connecticut Convergence Institute, began in 2013 and specifically focuses on recruiting underrepresented students. 

“These new YIIP scholars are recent college graduates who will complete intense graduate level coursework and conduct high caliber research in elite biomedical laboratories on the UConn Health campus,” Angelo said. 

Dr. Cato T. Laruencin, CEO of the Connecticut Convergence Institute for Translation in Regenerative Engineering, said YIIP scholars will conduct intensive research to prepare them for careers in science and biomedical sciences. 

“The program provides tools for the YIIP Scholars to conduct intensive research, excel in an academic environment and develop the skills to become high level candidates for graduate or medical schools,” Laurencin said. “Increasing the number of underrepresented minority students in the fields of science and medicine is one of our primary goals as an institute.” 

New YIIP scholar David Onwuka, UConn alumni and molecular and cell biology major, is excited to be part of the two year program. 

“I feel very grateful to be chosen for the YIIP Program. This program is very selective, choosing only five applicants annually,” Onwuka said. “​I am hoping to enhance my skills as a researcher and increase my knowledge through the biomedical science classes, while making lasting connections with the staff and students at the Health Center.” 

Tebyan Khalfalla and Christina Valera, UConn alumni and physiology and neurobiology majors were selected alongside Onwuka to be YIIP scholars this year. 

Onwuka recommends other minority students apply if they are interested in research and a future in the scientific field. 

“I feel very grateful to be chosen for the YIIP Program. This program is very selective, choosing only five applicants annually,”

“I heard about this program through my undergraduate research principal investigator and I applied because I felt this was a program that would help refine my academic and scientific abilities, allowing me to be better equipped for a future in medicine,” Onwuka said. “Also, I felt that my academic background and undergraduate research experience would make me a strong candidate for the program. There is a lot of support and guidance in this program as well, and students shouldn’t hesitate to apply if this seems like a direction they want to go in.” 

“In an effort to increase diversity among the pool of academic scientists, we promote our program heavily at HBCU, and Hispanic and Native American serving colleges and universities,”

The YIIP advisory committee reaches out to over 400 individuals when searching for new candidates every two years, Angelo said. 

“In an effort to increase diversity among the pool of academic scientists, we promote our program heavily at HBCU, and Hispanic and Native American serving colleges and universities,” Angelo said. 

The students will conduct individual research in biomedical labs at UConn Health, Angelo said. 

“Typically we would meet in person regularly for information seminars and informal lunches, but I am arranging virtual meetings so the students can still interact and develop supplemental skills,” Angelo said. 

Applications for the next cohort of YIIP scholars will begin in fall 2021, Angelo said. 

“The best way to keep up to date on our recruitment efforts is to visit our website or watch for announcements in the Student Daily Digest,” Angelo said. “I can always be reached by email if any students have questions.” 

Angelo said she hopes YIIP Scholars can carry the skills they learn with them into their careers. 

“Our hope is that all of our graduates will carry the experience and knowledge gained through YIIP into their future endeavors with all populations and with specific emphasis on underserved communities,” Angelo said. “One of our former YIIP Scholars described the program as giving her the skills and tools necessary to conduct research that benefits everyone in order to close the health disparities seen in many communities.” 

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