UWF Alumni Credit NIH-funded MARC Scholars Program Offers Them STEM Opportunities

The three graduates will continue their studies in prestigious universities in the southern United States. Nigro will attend the Coastal Sciences PhD program at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she was awarded the Coastal Sciences in Support of Diversity Fellowship. She plans to study the behavioral ecology and physiology of crab species with a focus on climate change. Nigro said participating in the MARC Scholars program changed his life.

“Being a student raised in poverty, I was totally unsure of what my future held. I knew the goals I wanted to achieve, but it didn’t seem realistic to achieve those goals with my financial background and I was consumed by impostor syndrome.When I was accepted into the program, I had no idea of ​​the success and foundations that lay ahead.MARC is where my passion for research was blooming.

Nigro ultimately wants to become a researcher and professor at a university where she can conduct her own research in marine behavioral ecology.

While at UWF, MARC Scholars, alongside faculty researchers, complete a sustained research project that spans from the summer before their freshman year through graduation. UWF faculty mentors provide essential support, guiding these academically talented students and taking their research to the next level. Each student must participate in off-campus research during the summer before their senior year, as well as additional academic requirements. Drake is a first generation student. She, Nigro, and Epps became MARC Fellows in the summer of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing.

“The faculty and staff running MARC at UWF have been very supportive and accommodating during this difficult time,” Drake said. “They provided us with masks throughout the pandemic, worked with us on our summer research plans, helped identify career-beneficial actions that could be done remotely, helped us stay on on track with coursework, held professional development workshops, and worked tirelessly to not let the pandemic completely halt our productivity as undergraduate research students.

The pandemic and personal issues presented challenges during her time as a researcher, but Drake said the program helped her overcome those obstacles.

“MARC provided me with a cohort of other high-achieving students who were in the same position as me, going through similar setbacks and victories,” she said. “It was good to have that feeling
from the community.

Drake has accepted an offer to join the University of Florida’s Analytical Chemistry PhD program, where she will study cancer and disease using microfluidic devices, starting this summer.

Epps was accepted to the doctoral and master’s programs, but made the decision to attend
The University of Georgia to get his master’s degree. If she enjoys studying marine conservation and has a passion to pursue research in this area, she plans to pursue a PhD.

“Before becoming a MARC Scholar, I had never even thought of going to graduate school or doing research. It gave me the opportunity to learn more about graduate school and research,” Epps said. “I’ve also met some amazing mentors and students along the way. Personally, I think MARC helped me come out of my shell a little more than before I arrived. It is a program that has encouraged continuous growth and personal development.

The MARC Scholars Program is a grant-funded training program sponsored by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of 27 separate institutes and centers that make up the National Institutes of Health.

For more information on the UWF MARC Scholars program, visit uwf.edu/hmcse.

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