September 23, 2020

Research Opportunities

UMass Amherst Lee SIP scholarships broaden participation in undergraduate research

Vincent Clark ’20 expected to spend the summer of 2019 working as a landscaper, but instead worked side-by-side with UMass Amherst Distinguished Professor in Chemistry Vincent Rotello in his lab. By summer’s end, Clark had redrafted his résumé, got a jump on his thesis, and contributed to a scientific paper later published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

It was a key experience for Clark, now a PhD student in chemical-biology at Johns Hopkins University. “Besides the lab work, I had individual attention from Professor Rotello as I began my grad school application process,” he says.

Clark had this opportunity thanks to the William Lee Science Impact Program (Lee SIP), now in its third year, a program designed to expand and broaden participation in undergraduate research. It was created with a gift from alumnus William “Bill” A. Lee ’77, executive vice president of research at Gilead Sciences, a first-generation college student who had a summer internship in a chemistry lab. Lee SIP Scholars are mentored by professors, work on a research team, and participate in professional development workshops. The program gives undergrads opportunities to engage directly in cutting-edge research on campus, including students from traditionally underrepresented groups in science disciplines. The current cohort of 30 students includes 20 first-generation students and 12 from underrepresented minorities. Fellows receive a stipend and on-campus summer housing.

Due to COVID-19, Lee SIP Scholars couldn’t live on campus or work in labs this summer, but they had the benefit of a full 10-week program of remote workshops, speakers, and professional development. Animal sciences major Jennifer Payne ’23 worked with Professor of Veterinary and Animal Sciences Kim Tremblay. Payne says she will “absolutely” draw on her summer experiences. “I hope to work in Professor Tremblay’s lab as soon as I can,” she says. “Learning about all the research resources available at the library is something that I will definitely use, along with many other things.”

Payne, of Leominster, Mass., is Lee SIP’s first Dr. Tracie Moniece Gibson Scholar, named for the late director of the College of Natural Sciences Office of Student Success and Diversity. Demonstrating the drive of all the recipients of these highly competitive scholarships, Payne put in a 32-hour week as a CNA in a nursing home while also participating in the summer remote program.

Fortunately, social distancing didn’t prevent all summer 2020 Lee SIP scholars from hands-on research. Jeron LeBlanc ’23, a geology major, did fieldwork under the direction of Extension Associate Professor of Geosciences Christine Hatch. He learned to use a GPS and soil moisture probe at a retired cranberry bog in Plymouth, Mass., that is being restored to a wetland ecosystem. Wetlands are essential to the environment, he explains, and it’s important to learn how to make the wetlands wet and messy again.

“It was truly an honor to be part of this,” LeBlanc says. “This was the first summer that I didn’t work as a lifeguard—it felt like a big step toward a real career.”

Applications for summer 2021 Lee SIP scholarships will open on November 15, 2020.

2020-2021 Lee SIP Scholars

Chelsea Amadi, Biology
Abraham Ashbell, Physics
Domenic Barbati, Biology
Nicholas Beaulieu, Psychology
Nicole Brown, Biology
Lexie Butler, Psychological and Brain Sciences
Miranda Crepeau, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Esther Darfour, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Okoh Frimpong, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Saida Gamidova, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Ethan Goulert, Chemistry
Meagan Gustafson, Biology
Maura Hegarty, Math
Lorenzo Hernandez, Biology
Norsha Hydol, Microbiology
Dasuni Jayawardena, Math
Alsea Kim, Physics
Alison Kleinfeld, Biology
Dorian Kos, Natural Resources Conservation
Randy Le, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Jeron LeBlanc, Geology
Jennifer Payne, Animal Sciences
Sofia PIggott, Biology
Matias Reus, Biology
Stephanie Stephens, Microbiology
Elsi Tutu, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Talaya White, Microbiology
Taariq Woods, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Jared Yeung, Animal Sciences
Sally Zhang, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology