Louie Kulber ’23 and Daniela Pierro ’23 Named Beckman Scholars

Louie Kulber ’23 and Daniela Pierro ’23

Louie Kulber ’23 and Daniela Pierro ’23 have been named Beckman Scholars for the class of 2022-2023. The Beckman Scholars Program is a 15-month mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry, biological sciences or interdisciplinary combinations of the two fields.

The Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation issues the three-year grants to institutions, which then name their own Beckman Scholars each year. Student awardees receive $21,000 apiece, funding two summers and one academic year of sustained, in-depth research.

Louie Kulber ’23

Kulber, a classics and molecular biology double major, hails from Los Angeles, where he attended Le Lycée Français de Los Angeles.

As a Beckman Scholar, Kulber is exploring the unconventional secretion of proteins with signal peptides in the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans.

He first heard about the award from Associate Professor of Biology Sara Olson while doing research with her last summer. In the fall, Kulber took Advanced Cell Biology with Olson and was able to use data gathered in that class as preliminary data for his Beckman Scholars proposal.

While considering applying, he met Jacob Al-Husseini ’22, a previous Beckman Scholar. Kulber mentioned to Al-Husseini that he was thinking about applying, and immediately Al-Husseini suggested having dinner together to talk about the program. Subsequently, they met three or four more times over meals at Frary Dining Hall to work on Kulber’s proposal together.

Julián Prieto ’20, the manager of the Olson lab, also served as an important peer mentor for Kulber. “I can’t emphasize enough how helpful my mentors have been, my peers have been. I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at without them,” Kulber says. “I hope to be a mentor to my fellow classmates and to pay it forward.”

After graduation, Kulber plans to enroll in an M.D.-Ph.D. program to pursue a career as a physician-scientist investigating the biochemical mechanisms of disease.

“The Pomona science classes do a particularly good job at cultivating scientific inquiry and making you really curious,” says Kulber. “An M.D-Ph.D. is all about being curious and creative and thinking about new ways to solve problems, and Pomona really sets you up to do that.”

Daniela Pierro ’23

Pierro, a biology major, came to Pomona from New York City because she was drawn to “how welcoming the community was, how much students wanted to collaborate and how much there was interest in learning for the sake of learning,” she says.

Pierro’s Beckman project is titled “Bleaching in Octocorals: Exploring Gene Regulation and Innate Immune Response Pathways.” Using bioinformatic methods, she is investigating what genes are differentially expressed during heat stress in a species of octocoral.

While she arrived with a strong interest in STEM, taking an introductory course with Associate Professor of Biology Fran Hazawa during her first year cemented her desire to study ecology and evolutionary biology. Upper division courses such as Bioinformatics of SARS-CoV-2 then led Pierro to fall in love with the computational side of biology.

Pierro has felt passionate about the conservation of marine ecosystems for many years. While taking Genomics and Transcriptomics with Professor of Biology Daniel Martínez this past semester, he brought to her attention a dataset that existed of a coral as it goes through heat stress.

“It was the most perfect way to merge my interest in bioinformatics with my love of coral and passion for coral conservation,” Pierro says.

After graduation, Pierro plans to enroll in a Ph.D. program to study coral using computational techniques.

Pierro says, “I feel really grateful to have so many really supportive mentors, especially in the biology department, who’ve really helped me in the last three years, not only figure out how to streamline my interest but also given me the confidence that I needed.”