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The value of supporting through research mentorship

Joana Hernandez, '23 Chemical Engineering

McNair Scholar reflects on the power of research mentorship and leadership through supporting others, by Adriana Fraser, Published: May 9, 2023

Joana Hernandez

Degree: B.S., Chemical Engineering, biotechnology & bioengineering track
Hometown: Hyattsville, MD
Post-grad plans: Applying to biochemical engineering Ph.D. programs

McNair Scholar Joana Hernandez is a research enthusiast who found her interest in scientific exploration and mentorship while at UMBC. Since 2019, Hernandez has worked as a research assistant in the lab of Fernando Vonhoff, assistant professor of biological sciences. The lab uses fruit flies as a model to study human neurological diseases. It was in Vonhoff’s lab where she realized that there were opportunities to turn her love of learning into a career in research. 

Hernandez has taken her interest in conducting research to the next level by helping to guide fellow students who may be unfamiliar with the academic research process. As a teaching fellow in the McNair Scholars Program, Hernandez led workshops in a class dedicated to teaching students how to develop research proposals. During these workshops, she presented on topics ranging from how to give a research presentation to how to apply to Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REUs). 

Hernadez shares that she’s proud to be a McNair Scholar. “As a first-generation college student, it can be difficult to navigate academic spaces and obtain resources on applying to graduate programs,” Hernandez says. “McNair welcomed me with open arms and helped grow my confidence by providing me with opportunities to conduct research and present at national conferences.”

Group of students smiling and posing in front of a backdrop with UMBC Academic Opportunity Programs, TRIO, and McNair Scholar logos. Joana Hernandez (fourth from the right, in glasses) with fellow McNair Scholars and Michael Hunt (far left), director of UMBC’s McNair Scholars Program. (Photo courtesy of Joana Hernandez)

Has there been a mentor or fellow student who influenced your time at UMBC?

“My mentors Fernando Vonhoff and María Célleri, assistant professor of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, have both had a positive influence on me. As a first-generation college student, I was unaware that undergraduates could participate in research or present at research conferences. When Dr. Vonhoff enabled me to join his lab my freshman year, it opened the doors to a lot of future opportunities. I am very grateful to have had a research mentor that was so understanding and encouraging.

“Dr. Celleri, my McNair mentor, is someone I can always count on to give me advice about navigating academic spaces as a Latina, and how to balance my life between my immigrant household and school. I appreciate all the wisdom I have gathered from her.”

What academic achievement are you most proud of?

“I am most proud of when I presented the research I did in the Vonhoff lab at the 2019 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS). That was the first time that I had attended a national conference and flew out to the West Coast. It was an eye-opening experience being able to see other undergraduate researchers from diverse backgrounds who were also just as passionate about communicating their work.”

Posted: May 16, 2023, 2:45 PM