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HHMI Gilliam Fellowship to Andrea Sama and Jazz Dickinson Supports New EDI Initiative

Fellowship funding paves the way for a May 10 keynote address on issues of health equity in the Latinx community

April 18, 2024

By Mario Aguilera

Andrea Sama head shot

Andrea Sama

Rachel Weinstein

UC San Diego School of Biological Sciences Graduate Student Andrea Sama and Assistant Professor Jazz Dickinson have been awarded a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship.

HHMI Gilliam Fellowships are annually awarded to graduate student-advisor pairs in recognition of outstanding research and a commitment to build a more inclusive scientific ecosystem.

Sama and Dickinson were selected among 50 advisor-student pairs, each of which receives an annual award totaling $53,000 for up to three years. Members of the latest cohort come from 37 institutions across the United States.

According to HHMI, the Gilliam Fellows Program invests in graduate students and advisors who embody leadership in science and are committed to advancing equity and inclusion in science. “The Gilliam Fellowship not only supports incredibly talented graduate students who are poised to become future leaders in science,” says Joshua Hall, senior program officer for the Gilliam Fellows Program, “but it also engages thesis advisors and institutions in the work of creating training environments in which all students can thrive.”

In Dickinson’s lab, Sama, a third-year graduate student, investigates the effect of environmental stress on plant metabolism. Climate change and drought have increased stressors on plants and threaten crop yield by disrupting normal plant growth and development. Sama’s research addresses questions surrounding metabolites, the compounds produced during metabolism, and their role in plant stress and development. Her research uses high-resolution imaging techniques to analyze the localization of metabolites in maize roots. Being able to characterize such biological dynamics will provide insights into the mechanisms that plants use to handle stress as scientists seek to develop a new generation of stress-tolerant crops.

Funding from the Gilliam Fellowship will go toward a new “Fireside Chat with Faculty” series launched by the UC San Diego chapter of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). The series invites Hispanic, Latin, Native American and other underrepresented minorities to discuss their career arc. Speakers in the series highlight the resources that enabled them to overcome the unique challenges they experienced in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The series has featured speakers from the School of Biological Sciences such as Assistant Professors Fabian Rivera-Chávez, Alex Chaim, and most recently, incoming faculty member Dr. Nabora Reyes de Barboza.

Jazz Dickinson headshot

Jazz Dickinson

Erik Jepsen

"Our goal for this series is to demystify a scientific career, provide representation to students interested in science and build a strong community among students and faculty at UC San Diego,” said Sama, who serves as SACNAS treasurer for the UC San Diego chapter.

Dickinson will use HHMI Gilliam Fellowship funds, along with support from the School of Biological Sciences’ Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committee, which funded the previous Fireside Chats, to support the upcoming Keynote Fireside Chat with Faculty event. Columbia University Associate Professor Carmela Alcántara will discuss how discrimination and stress in the Latinx community affect sleep and mental and physical health. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. on May 10, 2024, at the Fred Kavli Auditorium in UC San Diego’s Tata Hall (Fireside Chat registration is open). A lunch and social gathering will follow the keynote to encourage further discussion and community building.

According to Sama, the Fireside Chat series has already received feedback from students who had indicated a lack confidence in approaching professors. Following the series talks, they are more confident and feel more represented in STEM.

Among her other outreach efforts, Sama has: organized a community-supported agriculture program to provide free local produce to UC San Diego graduate students with financial need to help alleviate food insecurity on campus; coordinated a graduate housing assistance grant application and award process to alleviate housing insecurity among graduate students; and helped develop a long-term basic needs stipend for graduate students with high financial need.

Sama has also served as a mentor for undergraduate students in the Biology Undergraduate and Master’s Mentorship Program as well as the Enlace Summer Research Program.

HHMI created the Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study, now called the Gilliam Fellows Program, in 2004 in honor of the late James H. Gilliam, Jr., a charter trustee of HHMI. The Gilliam community now totals 451 outstanding scientists since the program’s launch in 2004. The program recognizes that advisors play an integral role in helping their students realize their high potential. For this reason, Gilliam advisers participate in a year-long mentorship development course led by facilitator-scholars from HHMI’s Scientific Mentorship Initiative.

“By offering professional development to mentors and supporting the growing Gilliam community, HHMI is working to create lasting change across campuses and throughout the wider scientific community,” says Blanton Tolbert, vice president of HHMI’s Center for the Advancement of Science Leadership and Culture (CASLC).

See the full list of HHMI Gilliam Fellows.