Gabriella Heller Earns Churchill Scholarship

When Gabriella
Heller PO ’14, a mathematics and chemistry double major, won the Churchill Scholarship, she
became one of just 14 in the United States who will continue their research at the University of Cambridge under the scholarship in the
upcoming academic year.

“I am really excited to do the
research,” she said. “That is why I applied to go. That is number one.”

The scholarship will pay for
Heller to attend the University of Cambridge after graduation to
work with Cambridge chemistry professor Michele Vendruscolo on the study of protein folding and protein

“It is one year of research only,”
Heller said. “You will be in lab the whole time.”  

Heller applied to a number of competitive research scholarships in addition to the Churchill Scholarship to secure the funds to go to Cambridge, including the Fulbright
Scholarship, for which she is a finalist, and the National Institute of Health’s Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program. 

“I really wanted to work with this one guy [Vendruscolo],” she said. “I was applying for anything that would get me there.”

Although Heller expressed surprise at winning the scholarship, her thesis adviser, Pomona College chemistry professor Matthew Sazinsky, did not.

“I kind of wasn’t
surprised,” he said. “I think that she is a pretty remarkable person.
She applied to almost every British fellowship, so something was going to hit.”

Heller said that her scholarship acceptance was a sign that scholarships sometimes emphasize research
over a clean academic record.

“It was really exciting to
see that maybe they care about research over GPA,” she said.

Sazinsky has known Heller, who worked in his lab over the summer, since
her first year at Pomona. 

“She has always had an incredible
enthusiasm for science,” he said. “The simplest thing, however geeky, is
still really cool to her. She is fascinated by the details.”

Heller is completing both math and chemistry theses. While she has pursued studies in science since her first year, she said that her interest in math came as a surprise. 

“I took linear algebra and realized how beautiful and elegant it
was, and I was like, ‘Shoot, what do I do now?'” she said. “I just kept taking more math.”

Although many students in the sciences do not go abroad, Heller traveled to Budapest on the math program
and said that it was one of her favorite semesters. She said that she has no intention of working strictly in the United States.

“There is such great science
going on in the UK [United Kingdom],” she said. “I definitely want to get a Ph.D. What school and
what country is another question.”

Heller’s research at Cambridge
will draw on her knowledge of both math and chemistry.

“My project at Cambridge is very
integrated,” she said. “It has mathematicians, computer scientists, chemists, biologists
all coming together. This is probably why I was able to go.”  

Outside of academic and lab work,
Heller is a mentor for the Pomona Science Scholars (PSS), a support group for students who are underrepresented in the sciences.

“Making education
more accessible is becoming more and more important to me,” Heller said. “Especially as I see
what PSS and HAP [High Achievement Program] are doing for Pomona.”

Heller encouraged science, technology, engineering, and mathematics students to pursue research. 

“Go talk to professors early, and if they say no, keep asking,” she said. “Ask around. That honestly is the most important thing you can do. Grades are
important but the No. 1 thing, I think, in my opinion, is research. People
think, ‘Oh, I am just a freshman in college; I cannot publish a paper,’ but that
is absolutely not true. You would be surprised.”

From the staff at Pomona’s Career Development
Office to specific professors in the math and chemistry departments, Heller
thanked a number of people who helped her along the way.

“There is a really solid support
network here, and they are always rooting for me,” she said. “I am really lucky.
I don’t think I would have gotten it without them.”

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