Santiago Serrano ’25 and Alexandra Turvey ’24 Selected as Beckman Scholars

Santiago Serrano and Alexandra Turvey

Santiago Serrano ’25, a neuroscience major, and Alexandra Turvey ’24, a biology major, have been selected as Beckman Scholars to conduct in-depth, mentored research over the next 15 months. The Beckman Scholars Program identifies exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry, biological sciences or interdisciplinary combinations thereof and awards each scholar-mentor pair $26,000 in funding.

Recognizing that students have different levels of research experience, Pomona’s selection committee this year created two tracks: one for students who have already had significant research experience and one for students who show strong promise for research.

Serrano and Turvey will do research full-time this summer and in the summer of 2024 and part-time during the academic year.

Since arriving at Pomona from Chicago as a Questbridge Scholar, Serrano has developed a passion for neuroscience research. He has worked alongside Karen Parfitt, professor of neuroscience, as a research assistant in her lab. Parfitt will also serve as his Beckman mentor.

Serrano’s interest in neuroscience lies in the use of neurogenesis for therapeutic means in both neurodegenerative diseases and peripheral nerve trauma. “This area requires extensive research but is rewarding as it will alleviate the pain of many,” he says.

As a Beckman Scholar, Serrano looks forward to having “access to an individual mentor as well as the large network of additional mentors for advice.”

In the future, Serrano hopes to work as a physician.

“There are a lot of things that are not entirely great about public healthcare in this country,” he says. “And it’s definitely something that I’m really passionate to change.”

Turvey will be mentored by Professor of Biology Andre Cavalcanti as she conducts novel research on aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRSs) with the goal of better understanding the origins and significance of human disease-causing variants. She will leverage public sequence repositories and new bioinformatics tools to better define the evolutionary history of aaRSs.

“Genomics and bioinformatics were not pre-ordained fields of interest for me,” says Turvey, who is from Vancouver, Canada. But in her first year at Pomona, she took an upper-level course, Genomics & Bioinformatics of SARS-CoV-2, with Cavalcanti that stoked her interest in research that was happening at a rapid pace in response to the pandemic.

This summer, along with conducting research, Turvey is applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs in genomic medicine with the long-term hopes of leading a translational research group identifying the genetic causes and novel treatments for rare and undiagnosed human diseases.

As a researcher, Turvey is eager “to ask and address important biological questions in a way not thought possible a decade or two ago.”