Although one grew up in south Florida and the other in south Wisconsin, both Lexie Matte (pictured at left above) and Jhaniya Brooks (pictured at right) are driven by a common goal: to improve health for people around the world. As Amgen Scholars at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) this past summer, Brooks and Matte were not only able to conduct scientific research but also were able to share the findings of their research with scientists globally through conference presentations — taking them one step closer to their goals. They are part of an impressive group of six students from the 2023 WUSTL cohort of Amgen Scholars to have their research accepted to present at scientific conferences.
”My presentation-building skills have been forever changed since going to Washington University as an Amgen Scholar and watching other talented students present their research,” says Matte, an undergraduate student at St. Norbert College who presented a poster at the Midwest Microbial Pathogenesis Conference in October. The research I did at Washington University gave me scientific skills and knowledge that I could not have gotten at St. Norbert College. I also got to work with an amazing graduate student and lab who were always there to answer my questions about my experiments, graduate school, and life.”
The focus of Matte’s research in microbiology, a subject she first became interested in at her local community college in her senior year of high school. “Through taking this microbiology course, I realized my love for microbes and learned how their interactions play a role in biological life on Earth,” she says.
Matte grew up in the small town of Howards Grove, Wisconsin, in a family with no scientific background, so “navigating my career early on was difficult,” she says. With the mentorship of Dr. Elizabeth Danka at St. Norbert and then Dr. Christina Stallings and graduate students at Washington University, she has had multiple opportunities to present work in microbiology and immunology.
“I have always enjoyed presenting my research whether it is on my work at St. Norbert College or from the Amgen Scholars Program, and I appreciate the funding and resources to share my projects with other scientists,” she says. “Some of the best times that I have had at conferences are getting to know other scientists and the cool research that is occurring at other universities.”
After graduating from St. Norbert, Matte plans to pursue a PhD in microbiology or immunology, with the goal to ultimately “collaborate with scientists to create better therapeutics against infectious microbes for patients around the world.”
For Brooks, presenting her Amgen Scholars research in neuroscience the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS) in mid-November allowed her to see students, scientists, and experts in their fields who shared similar backgrounds, she says. “It made the whole aspect of presenting so much easier, because I knew the judges and attendees weren’t judging me based on the color of my skin or my hair.”
Growing up in South Florida, Brooks had many classmates who could not afford health insurance, and so would avoid getting treatment for sickness or injury simply because they could not afford it. “Seeing them spurred on my desire to study science, specifically health-related research,” she recalls.
Now an undergraduate at Florida A&M University, Brooks conducts research in cancer biology, with a goal to attend medical school and graduate school, as well as receive a master’s degree in public health. For her Amgen Scholars summer, she conducted research on vision science. “This work was important to me because it’s not as thoroughly explored as other areas of neuroscience,” she says. “While it may not have direct biomedical implications as of yet, I felt that in doing this research, we were working to uncover information that could be used in future biomedical research, even if the use wasn’t immediately clear.”
One of the best parts of attending and presenting at ABRCMS was the exhibition hall. “It was really fun getting to see and get information from places that I never knew about, or never truly considered for my future,” Brooks says. “It was also an amazing way to make connections at the conference. I believe that connections and networking were my biggest takeaways from these experiences.”