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Biochemistry major selected for Posters on the Hill competition

  • student in chemistry lab

Posted on March 19, 2018

Uyen Pham, a junior majoring in biochemistry, has had a great month.

The native of Vietnam is the first Grand Valley student since 2014 to get a research proposal accepted at the prestigious Posters on the Hill competition sponsored by the Council on Undergraduate Research. Held in mid-April in Washington, D.C., student participants get opportunities to meet their congressional members and learn about advocacy for undergraduate research. 

More than 400 students applied this year, 60 were selected. Pham learned her proposal was accepted in early February. 

Then two weeks ago, she received an invitation to participate in the Summer Undergraduate Research program at the Université de Lausanne in Switzerland. 

"I'll be one of 20 students from around the world working as part of a research group," Pham said. "We'll also attend workshops by faculty and researchers and present research results at a student symposium." She will receive a stipend, free housing and reimbursement for travel.

Pham has worked with Rachel Powers, professor of chemistry at Grand Valley, for two years, assisting with Powers' research on bacterial resistance to antibiotics by studying beta-lactamase. Her Posters on the Hill presentation will highlight fragment-based inhibitors for a particular antibiotic resistance enzyme.

"I started working with Dr. Powers before I had organic chemistry," Pham said. "She is such a good mentor, I didn't need a lot of knowledge in that area before starting."

Susan Mendoza, director of the Office of Undergraduate Research, said Pham has done a terrific job of pursuing every research opportunity while at Grand Valley. Pham spent a summer in the lab as a Modified Student Summer Scholar (MS3), the program is geared toward lower-division students.

"Uyen seeks out opportunities that support her most aspirational dreams, and then she sets aside any uncertainty and doubt and pushes ahead," Mendoza said.

Pham grew up in Vietnam but spent her senior year of high school as an exchange student in Arkansas. She wanted to stay in the U.S. for college and deciding where to go was like casting a wide fishing net, she said. Pham narrowed her initial search of 2,000 potential colleges by eliminating two-year institutions, those set in hotter climates, then by ACT/SAT scores and finally, tuition.

It's similar to how she decided which faculty member to ask if she could help with their research.

"I sent emails to the biomedical, chemistry and biomedical sciences professors to see what fits with my goals," she said. "I started big because I didn't want to miss anyone."

Powers said Pham has a natural curiosity for learning and science. "She is a also a gifted communicator, and can articulate the importance of her project, at the correct technical level, to general audiences and scientific experts," Powers said.

Pham's younger sister, Han, is now at Grand Valley and majoring in biology.