Sophomore repeats as IINSPIRE Conference winner

Upper Iowa University students attending the recent Iowa Illinois Nebraska STEM Partnership for Innovation and Research and Education (IINSPIRE) Alliance Conference in Des Moines were (l-r) Kalvin Wiley, a freshman biology major from Milwaukee Wis.; Omeiza Suleman, a sophomore secondary education/mathematics major from Rockford, Ill.; Erik Zorrilla, a sophomore biology major from Miami, Fla., and Elyse Tyson, a sophomore mortuary science major from Country Club Hills, Ill. Zorrilla is pictured holding the cash prize he won, while placing third in the conference’s research poster competition.

An Upper Iowa University sophomore placed third in the recent research poster competition at the annual Iowa Illinois Nebraska STEM Partnership for Innovation and Research and Education (IINSPIRE) Alliance Conference. Erik Zorrilla, a biology major from Miami, Fla., won a cash prize for his poster that described his recent summer research experience at Iowa State University.

While attending the undergraduate program at ISU, Zorrilla worked under the guidance of assistant professor Nastaran Hashemi. As part of his studies, the UIU student fabricated polymer microfibers for future drug delivery and cell encapsulation over a span of 10 weeks. At the end of the summer program, he presented his work at a symposium in Ames.

“I am extremely grateful for the IINSPIRE program because not only has it provided a life-changing experience for me but it has made me realize that I want to continue my education and one day become a doctor,” said Zorrilla, who previously placed first in the experiential category of the IINSPIRE poster competition as a UIU freshman.

IINSPIRE is a Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The alliance brings together 16 two-year and four-year colleges and universities that are working to broaden the participation of underrepresented minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in the Midwest. The participating institutions collaborate to support and increase the success of students, and provide students in the alliance with academic, research, training, and mentoring opportunities including scholarships and research stipends.

“Upper Iowa students who participate in the IINSPIRE conference gain self-confidence when they meet and talk with STEM students, who share similar backgrounds and passion for the STEM disciplines,” said Dr. Katherine McCarville, UIU IINSPIRE Alliance campus director/associate professor of geosciences.  “As a woman scientist, I had very few role models at the time I went to school, I recognize and resonate with the excitement and empowerment of LSAMP students as they discover that they are not alone in their love for science, technology and math and their pursuit of STEM degrees.”

“True to its name, I think the IINSPIRE conference provides two major boosts to the students who attend – inspiration and motivation,” agreed Dr. Rebecca Schmidt, UIU assistant professor of biology. “Each of the students are inspired to see examples of successful scientists and peers that they can relate to, and they are motivated to seek out opportunities to distinguish themselves in their career development.”

“I am so very proud of Erik. It has been extremely rewarding to see both his interest in research and his maturity as a scientist continue to grow,” added Schmidt, who continues to guide Zorrilla in researching the pathogenic bacteria, Listeria monocytogenes. “After his success in the experiential category last year, I was happy to see an added spark in Erik’s interest and that he was further exposed to other types of avenues that he could explore. He has capitalized on those opportunities and continues to build on his experiences as he further develops as a student”

The 2016 IINSPIRE Alliance Conference was held in Des Moines Feb. 5-6. UIU student and faculty attendees included Zorrilla, McCarville, Schmidt, freshman Kalvin Wiley, Milwaukee, Wis.; sophomores Omeiza Suleman, Rockford, Ill., and Elyse Tyson, Country Club Hills, Ill.; Dr. Nigel George, professor of mathematics and physics, and Md Murshed, associate professor of management information systems.

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