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UMBC’s 2021 grads advance research with public impact

Excerpt from UMBC News

Excerpt from "UMBC’s 2021 grads advance research with public impact—from disaster response to assistive tech"

MAY 20, 2021 |  SARAH HANSEN

Students from across all of UMBC’s colleges and schools are graduating this week having taken advantage of the unique undergraduate research opportunities and supportive mentorship UMBC offers. They’re poised to take their research to the next level and move on to new challenges through graduate school and careers.

For example, Davis Cappabianca ’21 is recommending reforms to better coordinate multi-agency disaster relief efforts. Hana Flores ’21, chemical engineering,  is conducting cutting-edge HIV studies. Keren Herrán ’21, M29, is incorporating environmental science to improve public health. Ali Abdolrahmani, Ph.D. ’21, is developing innovative assistive technologies for the blind community, and Briscoe Turner ’21 is reimagining public safety with an eye to community empowerment. 

Becoming a scientist

A culture of supportive mentorship has helped sustain all of these students on their path to commencement. For Hana Flores, her first mentor on campus was none other than President Freeman Hrabowski.

The CEO of Prince George’s County Public Schools connected Flores with Hrabowski after hearing her deliver the valedictorian address at Bowie High School and learning that she would attend UMBC. On the day of their meeting, when Flores heard Hrabowski’s booming voice from the anteroom to his office, she was nervous. “But once he entered the room, any nerves I had went away,” she recalls. “He was so interested, and genuinely wanted to know what my goals and aspirations were.”

Soon thereafter, she joined the lab of Michael Summers, Distinguished University Professor of chemistry and biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. And she’s been conducting research with his team on the structure of HIV since. 

Postdoc Pengfei Ding, in particular, spurred her growth by encouraging his mentees to contribute to the intellectual direction of the research, rather than simply teaching them specific laboratory techniques. “Dr. Pengfei Ding essentially was a catalyst for me to grow into a more independent researcher,” Flores says.

Her many professors in chemical engineering also had a role to play. “They are really focused on students being able to achieve. I felt comfortable going to office hours,” she says. “And I feel like they didn’t just care about me accomplishing in my classes, they also cared about how I was as a person.”

Flores has presented at national conferences, conducted summer research at MIT, and joined the UMBC Honors College and U-RISE Program. Shes also a contributing author for one published and two pending research articles. This fall, she’ll begin a Ph.D. at MIT as a Dean of Science Fellow, where she hopes to pursue interests in protein engineering and regeneration.

Posted: May 26, 2021, 10:39 AM