Mizzou Undergraduate Researchers Earn Awards

Elizabeth Okafor, Dominic Romero, Erica Braham and T’Keaya Gaines
Mizzou’s Elizabeth Okafor, Dominic Romero, Erica Braham and T’Keaya Gaines earned Outstanding Poster recognition.

Four students from MU’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity (IMSD) program were honored at the 2016 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).

The conference, which took place Nov. 9-12 in Tampa, Florida, is one of the largest professional conferences for underrepresented minority students pursuing advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

During the conference, more than 1,800 students from 350 colleges and universities presented research in biomedical and behavioral sciences and mathematics.

MU students Erica Braham, T’Keaya Gaines, Dominic Romero and Elizabeth Okafor were among those honored with Outstanding Poster Awards.

“Receiving the award was amazing,” says Okafor, a senior majoring in biological sciences and romance languages. “When my name was called, it was exciting and humbling to hear my fellow Mizzou researchers cheering me on and congratulating me on getting the award.”

At least one MU student has received an Outstanding Poster Award at the conference in each of the last six years. IMSD director Brian Booton says MU is among rare company when it comes to that level of consistency.

Along with presenting their research at the conference, students met with representatives from college and university graduate programs and scientists from government agencies, foundations and professional scientific societies. The representatives shared information about graduate school, along with internship and research opportunities.

“The professional connections and networks that I’m attempting to build definitely grew over the course of the four days we were at the conference,” says Braham, a junior majoring in health sciences.

Gaines is a senior biochemistry and psychology major and Romero is a junior majoring in bioengineering. Romero’s favorite part of the conference was listening to a speech by best-selling author Wes Moore.

“He reminded us that we belong to the science community and that we are exactly where we are supposed to be,” Romero says. “He told us to keep on pursuing our dreams despite what anyone may say. The combination of hearing his motivating words and realizing that I am surrounded by brilliant minds gave me this affirmation that I belong and that I can be successful at science.”

For Braham, the highlight of the event was meeting and spending time with hundreds of intelligent students, leaders and scientists.

“There was a lot of hope there for marginalized communities, and it was amazing to see that despite the fact that minority communities often struggle to be appreciated, we continue to reach amazing heights,” Braham says.

Sixteen MU undergraduate students in the IMSD program presented their scientific research in Tampa. These students have worked with faculty mentors from 11 different departments at MU.