Decoding diseases drives
first-generation grad to doctorate
By Billi London-Gray
Biochemist. Microbiologist. Scholar. First-generation college student. However you describe her, Amanda Duran exemplifies how hard work and a strong support system can put a student’s highest ambitions within reach.
“Amanda is an excellent student and an outstanding role model for women pursuing careers in science and engineering,” says Susan Romanella, director of the Houston-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Scholars Program (H-LSAMP) in Texas State University’s College of Science. “Her success also stands as a testament to the stellar education and experiences she has pursued while at Texas State.”
Duran, a brand-new graduate of Texas State, majored in biochemistry with a minor in psychology. And she says she came to San Marcos knowing exactly what she wanted.
“I chose Texas State because it felt like a small school, had the benefits of a large school, was very affordable, and it was close to home,” she says. “I chose biochemistry because it builds a great foundation for the biomedical sciences.”
From early in her college career, Duran was able to take advantage of opportunities for lab experience as part of her studies.
“I began a microbiology research project in Dr. Robert McLean’s laboratory in the fall of 2009,” she says. “I knew then that research was the right career for me.”
After proving herself a determined and high-performing student, Duran was selected for the prestigious H-LSAMP Scholars Program. It creates a structured community where students receive faculty mentoring, undergraduate research and internship opportunities, and other forms of individual academic support.
As a National Science Foundation-funded program, H-LSAMP aims to substantially increase the number of students — especially minority students — graduating with bachelor’s degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“I am a first-generation college student, so the H-LSAMP program has been extremely helpful in supporting me, guiding me, and helping me take the first few steps towards a career path that I am both passionate about and capable of,” Duran says. “H-LSAMP was structured with career development and a support system which greatly aided me in creating, working towards and achieving my goals.”
Duran won several major awards after becoming an H-LSAMP scholar, including the Outstanding Undergraduate Student Talk award at the Department of Biology’s 2010 Colloquium, a 2010 Chemistry Leadership Group Travel award from the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, and the 2011 George H. Meyer Award in Microbiology.
Before graduating, Duran was notified that she had been awarded one of Vanderbilt University’s Graduate Honor Fellowships for Underrepresented Minorities. She will enroll there this fall to complete a PhD in chemical and physical biology, concentrating her studies on prion diseases — neurodegenerative disorders such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy or mad-cow disease.
“My career goal is to be the principal investigator of many research projects pertaining to the prion diseases and elucidating structural information about the proteins associated with these diseases,” Duran says. “With that, I would like to publish papers with high impact in the field. I have also enjoyed teaching and hope to eventually lecture at a university.“