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Bioengineering student selected to prestigious scholarship program

Zak Beach’s research and educational aspirations just received a big boost courtesy of the National Institutes of Health.


Zak Beach, a senior bioengineering major, recently was selected as a recipient of a National Institutes of Health Undergraduate Scholarship, which will provide him with $20,000 for the upcoming year and future research opportunities with NIH.

The University of Missouri senior bioengineering major recently was selected as a recipient of a NIH Undergraduate Scholarship, which will provide him with $20,000 for the upcoming year and future research opportunities with NIH.

To qualify for the scholarship program, a student must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, be enrolled full-time at an accredited four-year institution in the U.S., carry a grade-point average of 3.3 or better on a 4.0 scale and demonstrate financial need.

“The director of the program told me during the interview that we should know by the middle of the week,” Beach said. “I received the message on Friday and had been compulsively checking my email for the 48 hours before that, so it was definitely a relief.”

Beach said the application process mirrored several others he had to complete for research internships in the past, including a resume, letters of recommendation, essays and a phone interview.

The scholarship funds come with a pair of additional opportunities, which benefit both the recipient and NIH. First, there’s the 10-week lab internship, in which recipients will train for 10 weeks as paid interns in an NIH research lab under both a researcher and postdoctoral fellow. After graduation, there comes a year of employment in an NIH research laboratory, which Beach said he will defer until after receiving his graduate degree.

“All three of the components of the program are a win-win-win,” Beach said. “As great as this scholarship is, I would put it below the opportunity to get to be able to return to the NIH twice to do research.”

Beach has been plenty busy in the research department already. He’s currently working with NIH as part of the Biomedical Engineering Summer Internship Program, working on a project involving visualization of the mobilization of hematopoietic stem cells — self-renewing progenitor blood cells — from bone marrow to the blood. He is working alongside Giovanna Tosato of the Center for Cancer Research on the project. Beach said he likely will work on something similar as part of the 10-week summer program.

He also will continue working in MU bioengineering professor Sheila Grant’s lab until he graduates next spring. He is investigating the creation of a novel gold nanoparticle-collagen tissue scaffold until his graduation in the spring and said he hopes to work on projects in tissue engineering in the future.

“When Zak told me he had received the NIH scholarship, I was so happy for him.  He has worked very hard and I couldn’t have found a better student working in my lab.  Zak very much deserves this prestigious scholarship,” Grant said.

The funding and the research opportunities combined to give Beach one more benefit — increased confidence. The first-generation collegian said he received a boost from the belief in his abilities the scholarship signifies.

“Going to graduate school wasn’t even a thought until about two years ago,” he said. “I just didn’t know anything about it. … It seemed like such a lofty goal for me.

“Coming to the NIH to do research through these highly-competitive programs shows me that other people believe in me and that I am capable of pursuing this dream.”

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