Student Life

UWF announces first class of MARC Scholars

Four students at the University of West Florida were recently selected to join the Maximizing Access to Research Careers, or MARC, Scholars Program. The new program was recently funded as part of a multi-year National Institutes of Health grant totaling more than $960,000.

The MARC Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research grant, awarded to Dr. Karen Molek, assistant professor and director of Chemistry Scholars Program at UWF, and Dr. Michael Huggins, professor and dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Health, in 2014, provides support for underrepresented undergraduate students pursuing PhD or MD/PhD degrees in the biomedical or behavioral sciences.

The grant, funded by NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences, provides financial support to students to allow them to spend more time in the research lab, thereby improving their preparation for high-caliber graduate programs. According to the NIH website, the grant program also supports efforts to strengthen the science course curricula and pedagogical skills of faculty and biomedical research training at institutions with significant enrollments of students from underrepresented groups.

“We are thrilled to announce the first cohort of UWF MARC Scholars,” said Molek. “These Scholars were vetted by our MARC Scholars selection committee, comprised of UWF faculty and administrators. Each student represents a unique story of success resulting from an enhanced research experience, increased mentoring and reduced financial constraints. Programs like MARC Scholars will continue to transform our institution one student at a time. Our faculty mentors benefit from the increased research funding, provided by the grant, and their student’s productivity that we hope will catalyze increased research funding for faculty. Our goal for this program is to impact generations of UWF students and faculty.”

The first class of MARC Scholars at UWF includes:

  • Hailey Egido-Betancourt, junior chemistry major
  • Brandon Colon, junior chemistry major
  • Pristine Kirkconnell, junior chemistry major
  • Andria Palmer, junior physics major

The MARC Scholars Program covers tuition and a portion of housing expenses for students, as well as summer stipends for on- and off-campus research. Additionally, a portion of the grant funds small research stipends for UWF faculty members from the biology, chemistry and physics departments who mentor MARC Scholars in the research lab.

Palmer, who hopes to one day research extrasolar planets and astrobiology, said her current research experience with Dr. Lazslo Ujj, physics professor, on laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy will prove useful in graduate school and beyond.

“My current research is important because it gives me experience with lasers that I can apply to future endeavors and summer research programs,” she said. “The type of spectroscopy I’m learning will also apply to me in the future, as it’s been used by NASA on a Mars Rover and I hope to study astronomy in graduate school.”

Colon said the MARC Scholars Program has not only given him valuable one-on-one time with faculty mentors and the ability to conduct research as an undergraduate, but has also provided him with needed financial support to succeed in college and pursue his goal of attending graduate school.

“Before this program, I was working two jobs and trying to excel in classes,” he said. “I’m now able to fully immerse myself and able to further my goals and understanding in education. MARC Scholars has given me more security and enabled me to focus on school.”

Kirkconnell is currently conducting research with Dr. Tanay Kesharwani to develop a green, environmentally friendly reaction using table salt as the source of chlorine during the synthesis of biologically interesting molecules. She credits the MARC Scholars Program with providing her the opportunity to pursue her interest in green chemistry, as well as a solid educational foundation for graduate school.

“A lot of students at other universities don’t have the resources to conduct research like we do at UWF,” she said. “Not only does the MARC Scholars Program help students get into research, but it pays you to do research you enjoy. Everything I’ve learned in MARC Scholars is preparing me for graduate school, from having to draft my resume and personal statement for the program application to learning safety techniques for specific instruments.”

Egido-Betancourt said the MARC Scholars Program is opening doors for her to achieve her future goals.

“This program is opening paths toward new opportunities that I didn’t have as an incoming freshman at UWF,” she said. “Now, I’m able to spend more time in the lab and have the opportunity to do research off campus at an MD/PhD granting institution. With the help of the MARC Scholars Program, I can also delve further into my desired career of being a neurosurgeon by earning an MD/PhD.”

To learn more about the NIH grant, visit