Alondra Martinez Osorno believes in seizing opportunities. That’s what the Washington & Jefferson College senior has done with each internship experience, and what led her to apply for – and win – a prestigious award from The National Institutes of Health (NIH), the largest biomedical research center in the United States.
Awarded to only 15 students in the nation this year, the Undergraduate Scholarship Program (UGSP) pays a significant portion of her undergraduate tuition and in exchange she must participate in a 10-week summer internships, and work in the NIH Intramural Research Program for one year upon graduation.
“I’d come so far with the application and I was just thinking ‘I need to get it.’ I really wanted it. I didn’t want to put semi-finalist on a resume,” she said. “I got my email and contract and I just cried happy tears. I cried for a moment, I thanked God, and then I told my family and friends.”
A graduate of Canon-MacMillan High School in Canonsburg, Pa., Martinez Osorno is now a senior Biophysics and French double major at W&J. She found out about the NIH Scholarship while she was searching similar opportunities recommended by her W&J professors, and with help from those professors she was ready to take on a challenging application and interview process. She said the interview question that stood out to her most was about diversity in the National Institutes of Health. She hadn’t planned an answer to the question, but had plenty to say on the topic. Martinez Osorno is a first generation college student whose family is originally from Mexico. She also recognizes a lack of women in her field.
“The more you interact with diverse people, the more you diversify your ideas. That expands your perspective, your input, your consideration for other people,” she said. “It makes you a more wholesome person, and I think it also helps normalize diversity. It shouldn’t have to be a big deal but it is, because progress still needs to be made. If you have a community that’s socioeconomically diverse and racially diverse then you can strengthen your connections with your community and beyond.”
Martinez Osorno wants to go to grad school for biomedical engineering, and plans to use her interdisciplinary background to pursue a career on the business side of the biomedical field. Her ultimate goal is to own a business that makes medical devices that integrate naturally with the body’s systems, providing healthier, more effective treatment for patients.
She said her experiences at W&J set her up for success. As a freshman, she served as a student research assistant at W&J, working alongside chemistry professor Dr. Patricia Brletic to synthesize cobalt crystals for an inorganic chemistry class. Following her sophomore year, she was accepted into Binghamton University’s biomedical engineering research experience for undergraduates, a 10-week experience in which she worked on a project that examined how alcohol affects fetal cardiac cells. That same summer, she spent three weeks working at a hospital in Leuven, Belgium, where she was a visiting research student in fetal medicine. The experience allowed her to shadow several doctors, and made her think a bit more about where her own future might take her. She completed an online internship studying biomaterials through the University of California San Diego bioengineering department during the summer of 2020.
Associate Professor Jennifer Logan Bayline, Ph.D. said Martinez Osorno’s scholarship win is a testament to her academic abilities and also an example of how W&J’s science programs help students be competitive for national awards. She said she is especially proud of the initiative Martinez Osorno showed in pursuing the opportunity.
“What strikes me about Alondra is her open mind and her diverse interests, ranging from biological physics to French. Alondra seeks out opportunities and they’ve paid off,” Bayline said. “I think Alondra’s genuine interest in and enthusiasm for science and global experiences helped make her a compelling candidate for NIH.”
Martinez Osorno also wants to start a magazine geared toward empowering women with resources they need to be successful in STEM fields, including information about scholarships and other opportunities. She is also an advocate for home internet access, recognizing this as an overlooked resource that some students do not have. She hopes her scholarship award will encourage other students who might not have considered this opportunity to try for it, and she is willing to help any student who has questions about her experiences or about scholarship applications.
“Sometimes having someone else do it before you helps because then you have someone to ask about it,” she said. “I also think that sometimes you have to set the precedents and be an unprecedented President.”
Story originally posted on Washington & Jefferson College’s website.