When Daniel Garcia HM ’10 reached his junior year at Harvey Mudd College (HMC), he found himself looking at—and understanding—the publication that had led to the commercial production of the arthritis medication Enbrel.
Garcia had taken Enbrel for 12 years after he was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of six. The diagnosis launched Garcia into a lifelong association with and curiosity about medicine. Starting at this young age, he wanted to immerse himself in the field. But 12 years later, Garcia’s goals crystallized.
“In a biochemistry course with Prof. David Vosburg during my junior year, I truly realized my passion for biology,” Garcia wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “I began to see a place for myself among the scientists who find treatments for diseases through biomedical research, and it has become my goal to follow this path.”
Garcia is well on his way. He was awarded the Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute this year. He is the first student from any of the Claremont Colleges to receive the prestigious award.
The fellowship supports students from minority groups that are underrepresented in the sciences as they attend graduate school. The aim of the fellowship program is to broaden the diversity of college and university faculty.
The Gilliam Fellowship was established in 2004. Garcia, along with eight other students selected this year, joins a small pool of only 53 other recipients since the fellowship’s inception. As a recipient of the fellowship, Garcia will receive $46,000 a year for up to five years to put toward PhD study at an institution of his choice.
“Daniel is hardworking and very mature,” said Harvey Mudd biology professor Nancy Hamlett, Garcia’s senior thesis advisor. Hamlett said Garcia was an excellent candidate for the fellowship.
“He is also a good writer, which always helps,” she said. “He is able to express what he wants to say, and is really interested in the big picture, which not everybody is. He also got along with everyone and was a lot of fun to have in the lab.”
Garcia was a member of the Presidential Scholars Program all four years at HMC. The program provides full tuition scholarships to students who are part of groups that are underrepresented in the fields of math, science and engineering.
“Daniel was always helpful on campus,” said Falone Serna, Associate Director of Admission and Chair of Diversity Recruitment at Harvey Mudd. “He was really active in the recruitment effort of new scholars, sending postcards, and was really visible in talking to those students.”
“He is not only technically interested, but also engaged in society and using technical knowledge for greater good,” Hamlett said.
The Gilliam Scholarship is a highly competitive process. To even be considered, applicants must previously have participated in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), a competitive program in its own right that provides undergraduate research opportunities to minority students in the sciences. Garcia participated in EXROP at the University of San Francisco, where he did asthma research.
Upon graduation from HMC, Garcia considered immediately applying to graduate school but decided that he wanted more experience first.
“I decided to apply to programs with research training opportunities for post-baccalaureates to get a better idea of what biomedical research is like,” he wrote. Garcia is currently conducting research at the National Institute of Health in Maryland.
Now, with the Gilliam Fellowship, Garcia will attend the University of San Diego starting this fall in the biomedical sciences graduate program. Garcia hopes to graduate with a PhD and a good publication record, and then obtain a post-doctoral position doing research at a university or institution. His eventual goal is to become a staff scientist or run his own research lab as a faculty member at a university or institution.
“Having a strong internal motivation is what has gotten me to this point,” Garcia wrote. “Being curious is a good way to start a foray into science, but it is not sufficient to maintain the course. Curiosity is not going to get you through those tough times when your experiments aren’t working; it won’t help you overcome adversity.”
“He was a great student,” Hamlett said. “I am very proud of Daniel.”