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NMSU-HHMI alum to speak at research scholars banquet

Graduating seniors from New Mexico State University's Howard Hughes Medical Institute program will be honored for their achievements at the annual NMSU-HHMI Research Scholars Graduation Banquet. The event will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Friday, May 3, at the NMSU Golf Club House. Rachel Johnson, HHMI Gilliam Fellow and graduate of the program, will deliver the keynote address.

Rachel Johnston standing
NMSU alumna Rachel Johnston will deliver the keynote address at this year's NMSU-HHMI Research Scholars Graduation Banquet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, May 3, at the NMSU Golf Club House. Johnston, a graduate of the program and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellow, is currently doing graduate work at UCLA. (Submitted photo)

"The NMSU-HHMI Scholars Program has profoundly affected where I am today," said Johnston, who is a currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Entering college, I knew I liked biology, but I didn't know what I wanted to do for a career. I still remember getting a letter in the mail about the NMSU-HHMI undergraduate research program and thinking, 'I wonder what doing research is?'"

The Research Scholars Program in the College of Arts and Sciences is designed for juniors and seniors who would like to gain an in-depth understanding of the nature of research in the biological sciences. Research scholars work at least 10 hours per week in a research laboratory during their junior and senior years. They also work full-time on research projects during their junior-senior summer.

NMSU-HHMI Program Director and biology department head Ralph Preszler will give the opening remarks followed by dinner and recognition of the graduating scholars and their faculty mentors. As part of Johnston's address, she will talk about her work as a Research Scholar and how that experience influenced her career.

"The NMSU-HHMI Research Scholars Program provides undergraduates with an opportunity to work closely with faculty research mentors, as well as graduate and undergraduate researchers, as they conduct research," Preszler said. "This experience makes them highly competitive candidates for graduate schools across the country. It also prepares them to succeed in graduate school and in careers related to conducting research or applying research."

Johnston entered the HHMI Undergraduate Research Scholars Program as a sophomore. She received a bachelor's in biology from NMSU in 2010, and is currently a graduate student studying the genetics underlying ecologically important traits in the Swainson's thrush and coat color in the gray wolf at UCLA.

"Rachel is a tremendously talented and dedicated student, and did some nice work in my lab," said Jennifer Curtiss, the biology professor who mentored Johnston. "She is a great credit to NMSU, and I'm looking forward to seeing her again."

The NMSU-HHMI program is supported in part by a grant to NMSU from the HHMI through the Undergraduate Science Education Program. For more information visit their website at http://hhmi.nmsu.edu.