Graduate student Franceine Welcome and Michael Airola, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology in the College of Arts and Sciences, have won Stony Brook University’s first Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study, a biomedical fellowship supporting up to three years of doctoral study.
The Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study provides awards to pairs of graduate students and their dissertation advisors based on what HHMI values and considers essential components of the environment, particularly the institution and adviser’s commitment to creating a healthy academic ecosystem and the student’s potential for scientific leadership. The fellowship also honors HHMI’s long-standing commitment to inclusion in science and science education, with a goal of advancing diversity and inclusion in U.S. science. Welcome and Airola are one of 51 advisor-mentor pairs selected for Gilliam this year.
“The receipt of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study is an impressive first for Stony Brook and I couldn’t be more pleased for Michael Airola and his mentee, Franceine Welcome,” said Wali Karzai, professor and chair, Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology. “This important biomedical fellowship comes at an exciting time for Professor Airola, one of our stellar early career faculty who has been recognized many times this year for not only his research, but for his excellence in teaching.”
Airola’s lab at the Stony Brook Cancer Center studies lipid metabolism with a specific focus on enzymes that modify lipids and are relevant to cancer, cardiovascular disease and fungal infections. The goals of this research are to understand how the shape of these proteins determines their function and to develop small molecule inhibitors that can be used to treat disease. Earlier this year, Airola was one of four SBU faculty selected as a 2022 Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow. As part of the HHMI Gilliam award, Airola will engage in activities to foster an inclusive environment in his department for graduate students, establishing a racial and cultural sensitivity seminar for graduate students and faculty in his graduate program.
Welcome is a PhD candidate in the Biochemistry and Structural Biology graduate program and a researcher in the Airola lab. She joined the lab in 2021 with the goal of diversifying her technical skills to bring multiple tools to bear on her dissertation work understanding lipin regulation and how, ultimately, this understanding may help us treat disease. As part of her commitment to broadening participation in science, Welcome has mentored students from historically underrepresented backgrounds and most recently, received a grant from Microsoft to address COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in communities of color. The HHMI Gilliam award will provide three years of funding support for Welcome and her research, as well as provide career and professional development as she joins a national community of Gilliam fellows.
“I am delighted that the Gilliam Fellowship will provide sustained support for Franceine, support that is crucial for her long-term educational and professional success,” said Celia Marshik, interim dean of the Graduate School. “I moreover want to recognize the Graduate School staff’s structured support for our fellowship applicants, which paid clear dividends in this case as in so many others.”
Stony Brook’s Graduate School enhanced the support it provided to applicants this year through a collaborative effort between Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development and the Center for Inclusive Education (CIE). “This tremendous achievement is primarily due to the outstanding student-mentor pair, but it is also a recognition of Stony Brook’s long-standing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in graduate education,” said Miguel Garcia-Diaz, associate professor of pharmacology and associate dean in the Graduate School, who served on the selection committee and provided feedback to applicants through a new workshop and application process. “SBU is fortunate to have a Graduate School that can leverage the expertise of both the CIE and Graduate Professional Development in supporting this prestigious competition.”
“Awards like Gilliam help us extend Stony Brook’s support for inclusive graduate education,” said Karian Wright, assistant dean for Diversity and Inclusion in the Graduate School and director of the Center for Inclusive Education. “We look forward to what Franceine and Mike will do next!”
Students and faculty interested in this award should watch for a new call for nominations from the Graduate School this fall.