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After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, two former undergraduate students from the University of Puerto Rico, Sarah Colon and Rosemarie Martinez Borrero, found a home at FIU. Now, the students continue in their research progress under the mentorship of Biomolecular Sciences Institute Director, Dr. Yuk-Ching Tse-Dinh.

Before the hurricane, coming to Miami had never occurred to Sarah but the forces of nature inadvertently opened a door of opportunity for her. After researching several universities online that were offering a helping hand to students from Puerto Rico, Sarah decided on applying to FIU. Aside from the university’s readiness to cover her tuition fees, the presence of undergraduates from many different countries stood out to her as she values being in the mix of international students. Sarah was admitted as a junior in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry during the fall of 2017. Her hard work in earning a 3.94 GPA from her previous institution allowed her to receive an Academic Transfer Achievement Scholarship. This award pays 50 percent of her tuition and books, while the other 50 percent of financial assistance comes from the Knight Foundation. Sarah hopes to graduate in the summer of 2020 and later pursue a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Pharmacology.

Sarah joined Dr. Tse-Dinh’s lab in the spring of 2019. Her interest in drug interactions brought her to Dr. Tse-Dinh’s project on Screening and Evaluation of  Human Tyrosyl-DNA-Phosphodiesterase 1 (TDP1) Inhibitors under the support of the FIU MARC U*STAR program funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). According to Dr. Tse- Dinh, “The results of the project would be relevant for the development of new cancer treatments that can overcome the tumor defense mechanism.” This project aligns perfectly with the area of research that Sarah would like to pursue as she seeks to increase her skills with the hope of creating a treatment in the future specifically designed for neurodegenerative diseases. Sarah is a MARC U*STAR Fellow, a member of the FIU Puerto Rican Student Association and a very promising student. While leaving her homeland was not easy, she cannot be more thankful for all the opportunities that have come her way.

Rosemarie Martinez Borrero came to Miami in the spring of 2018 upon receiving admission to FIU as a visiting undergraduate student in chemistry following the disruption of her studies at the University of Puerto Rico. FIU was her university of choice because it offered a variety of scholarship opportunities. Support from an #FIUstrong grant that offered in-state tuition helped with her financial circumstances. Because of her desire to gain research experience, she enrolled in biochemistry undergraduate research in Dr. Tse-Dinh’s lab. Rosemarie found Dr. Tse Dinh’s project on the Molecular Mechanism of Regulation of Bacterial Topoisomerase I Activity by Endogenous Toxin Protein to be unique and novel.

Rosemarie received funding support from the NIGMS program that provides a supplement for undergraduate research participants to promote diversity under Dr. Tse-Dinh’s NIGMS R01 grant to conduct vigorous lab research for two years. She likes the hands-on experience of working with the instruments and bacterial cultures and finds it fulfilling to be trusted with the responsibilities that go with this project. Dr. Tse Dinh commented, “The results of Rosemarie’s project would aid the discovery of new antibiotics targeting bacterial topoisomerase I for treatment of superbugs.” Now in her second year at FIU, Rosemarie is succeeding in her academic growth and hopes to pursue graduate study to continue her research on drug discovery and treatment. Her current involvement in Dr. Tse-Dinh’s lab certainly inspires her to cultivate a deeper quest for scientific knowledge, and to develop perseverance and critical thinking.

Melinda Hoder contributed to this article.