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Jumping Ahead through Research

January 11, 2016

UMD senior Bennie (Benedicth) Ukhueduan 


pathway bennie lab

Benedicth Ukhueduan and the Pathways Program

Carrying only her clothes and a love for science, Bennie (Benedicth) Ukhueduan traveled from a small town in Nigeria to Minnesota. It was 2007 and she felt prepared for what the world had in store for her.

“I’ve always been fascinated with science. It has opened my world to a whole different viewpoint on life.” After taking a few science classes at UMD, Bennie wanted to do more than taking a sequence of classes for her major. She wanted to dive deeper into the research world. That’s when she applied up for one of UMD’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Projects (UROP). UMD offers a stipend to full time undergraduate students who wish to undertake in a research project in partnership with a faculty member. Bennie is double majoring in psychology and cellular & molecular biology.

For her UROP project, Bennie focused on the organic synthesis of benzoxaborole derivatives as anticancer agents working with her advisor Dr. Paul Kiprof. She began networking with more faculty and students in the biology department, and that created a sense of community and belonging in her.

But Bennie craved for even more. She had to figure out a way to establish herself as a researcher in her own right … and she did just that. At a Black Student Association meeting, Bennie met a former UMD student who introduced her to the Pathways program at UMD. Pathways is a National Institute of Health program to help students gain advanced research experience.

Bennie marched into the UM Medical School-Duluth to speak with Dr. Benjamin Clarke about Pathways. With this determination, she landed herself a spot within the competitive program.

Today, Bennie finds herself using genotyping to research hearing loss under professors George Trachte and Janet Fitzakerley. Genotyping is the process of determining differences in the genetic make-up (genotype) of an individual. She has been working in her Pathways research lab longer than any other current student and her passion hasn’t faded. “It’s the beauty of discovering something new that keeps me coming back each day.”

Seeing women instructors in lab coats struck a chord with Bennie. “Back home where I’m from, not a lot of women are educated. It inspires me to see how many women are in this field.” Seeing herself in their shoes, Bennie catches a glimpse of her future.

Bennie tries on all kinds of shoes. When she’s not mixing chemicals in the lab, Bennie changes into heels and takes classes at the Superior Ballroom Dance Studio. “When I wasn’t doing research, I would find myself watching dance films and was captivated by their movements”. After just a few months into her beginners course, she now finds herself waltzing through dance competitions and has even joined the UMD Ballroom club. Dancing is a healthy diversion from a heavy coursework and research schedule.

Through opportunities that UMD provides for research such as UROP and Pathways, Bennie and many other science students find themselves much better prepared for their future. “I’m very grateful of the program. My work is making a difference and that is really rewarding,” Bennie explained.

For more information see Pathways to Advanced Degrees in Life Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth campus

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