Vassar among 14 recipients of research grant

Vassar College is among 14 institutions selected for the 2022 Beckman Scholars Program. Participating institutions receive a three-year, $156,000 grant from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to support undergraduate research in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and neuroscience and behavior. 

The funding will support Beckman Scholars at each institution, selected via a scrutinous application process. Selected students will work closely with one of the possible professor mentors at their college. Each scholar will receive an $18,200 stipend for 15 months of research, as well as $2,800 for travel and research supplies. The faculty mentor will also receive $5,000 for travel and research supplies related to their scholar’s project.

“Because this is a big commitment, on the part of both the student and the faculty member, before submitting a full application, students must submit a pre-application to express their interest in working with one of the available mentors for that year,” said Associate Professor of Biology and Director of Biochemistry Jennifer Kennell, Vassar’s Beckman Scholars Program Director. She added, “This is really an important opportunity for our students to be recognized and rewarded for their excellent research.”

Although there are no scholars currently selected for the research program, pre-applications have been submitted and reviewed by the potential faculty mentors for those students. For those who  move forward, a full application will be due at the end of February, followed by a presentation by semi-finalists to a selection committee of Vassar’s science faculty, who will announce the first two Beckman Scholars as soon as late March.The finalists will then begin their research on May 23, 2022.

According to Assistant Professor of Biology Colin Aitken, one of the 10 possible Vassar faculty mentors, not only is it important that the funding pays the students for their work, but also that there are funds to support the research itself. He said, “We have to buy reagents and instruments to perform our experiments, and the more funding we have available, the more adventurous and creative we can be in designing those experiments to work.”

Aitken also argued that much of how we learn is through trial and error. “My lab studies how the molecular machinery responsible for translating genetic information is assembled,” Aitken wrote in a statement, adding, “We do a lot of our learning by making mistakes, failing and then getting back up and trying again.”

In addition to Vassar, the other institutions awarded the grant this year are Barnard College, Binghamton University, Indiana University, Macalester College, Ohio State University, Trinity College, Trinity University, University of Arizona, University of California-Los Angeles, University of California-Santa Barbara, University of Kentucky, University of Maryland-Baltimore County and Vanderbilt University. This year’s award comprises more than $2.1 million in funding for 84 undergraduates at the above institutions over the next three years.

According to Associate Vice President, Foundation and Government Relations and Director for Grants Development Gary Hohenberger and Assistant Dean for Grants Development and Administration Chris Johnson, Vassar has applied to the Beckman Foundation multiple times since the program’s launch in 1998, but this is the College’s first time being chosen.

After submitting the College’s application to the foundation last year, Kennell was thrilled when Vassar was announced among the recipients just a few months ago. She said, “Our application was selected based on the outstanding record of our Vassar science faculty in mentoring undergraduate research projects and the proposed mentoring plans these faculty outlined.”

Even if students who apply to be a Beckman Scholar are not accepted due to the extremely limited acceptance, Aitken encourages students to apply to other research projects on campus. “We have wonderful, talented and motivated students here at Vassar, and it is very difficult to make these choices,” his statement continued, adding, “Fortunately, there are many other possibilities for mentored-research at Vassar, for example the URSI (Undergraduate Research Summer Institute) and [Howard Hughes Medical Institute] HHMI Grand Challenges rising sophomore summer research programs, as well as research intensives during the semester.”


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