University of Nebraska Omaha student Sarah Alsuleiman knows the fear caused by a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. Three years ago, her father was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of prostate cancer. For her family, they found hope in active research that is helping to save her father’s life.
“That is when I realized the power of research and the impact it can have on a lot of people. I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but then I realized that research can definitely reach a lot more people and that’s something that really drew me in. When I joined the lab and I realized the thrill of trying to solve problems and answer the questions that haven’t been answered before or that no one else knows, my interest in any other career was gone and I knew this was for me,” said Alsuleiman.
Alsuleiman is one of 10 students recently honored by Nebraska Cures with a Holland Future Scientist Award. The awards range from $700 to $300 per student and are awarded to students excelling in the National Institutes of Health funded INBRE program. The program is designed to create a biomedical research infrastructure that provides research opportunities for undergraduate students and serves as a pipeline for those students to continue into graduate research.
Holland Awardee and University of Nebraska at Kearney senior Sam Mercer is already planning her next steps.
“I’m applying to grad school. I want to continue studying intracellular pathogens and researching their interactions with the host cells. Then that can go into drug development against them because antibiotic resistance is, as we know, a big problem, and with climate change we’re going to see a lot more parasites and diseases being able to survive within the U.S.”
Creighton University junior Erin Hebert received one of two first place Holland Awards. The awards are based on presentations the students give on their research. Hebert worked in a UNMC lab validating a set of biomarkers that can be used to diagnose pancreatic cancer.
“It means a lot to me because this is the first time I’ve ever presented any kind of research that I’ve done,” said Hebert. “I was super nervous getting ready for this presentation thinking everybody has a leg up on me. Receiving this reward reminds me that I’m on the right track and I do know a bit more than I think.”
Creighton University senior Keely Orndorff is the other first place awardee and is currently applying for neuroscience and biomedical science PhD programs. Orndorff is drawn to research because there is always more to learn. She is also interested in teaching the knowledge she is uncovering.
“This award meant a lot because it’s the first time I’ve won an award for presenting my research, which is cool in and of itself, and it’s also rewarding because I’m interested in teaching. Giving presentations at conferences feels like teaching someone else about whatever you’re learning. It’s confirmation that I did a good job getting my ideas across and getting that information to them at a digestible level.”
As for Sarah Alsuleiman, immunology and working on parasitic infections is where her passion lies. Receiving a Holland Award was an unexpected validator that she is on the right career path.
“I think it feels very rewarding because I have spent a lot of time doing research and I wasn’t expecting anything in return because, really, I do it because I love it. But getting an award like this makes me feel really grateful and just happy that maybe I’m doing something right. It definitely inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing.”