Five University of Missouri students were recently selected to join the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Emerging Scholars program, which supports students and researchers aspiring to become professors and faculty members.
One of these students is Dennis Perez-Lopez, a PhD candidate in the Molecular Pathogenesis and Therapeutics program at the MU School of Medicine, under the Molecular Microbiology and Immunology department.
Perez-Lopez has always been passionate about serving his community – in high school, he tutored multiple kids, and volunteered to help children with special needs. When he chose to pursue science and medicine, he realized early in his college career that there were still ways he could serve.
“When I was in undergrad, a neighbor was born with a genetic disease called deficiency of interleukin-1 receptor antagonist,” Perez-Lopez said. “Their family contacted me to learn or understand more about the disease because they didn't have a science background. I was just the closest scientist that they had.”
This sparked his interest in genetic diseases and everything related to molecular microbiology and immunology, including virology and gene therapy. He currently works in the Chris and Monique Lorson Lab studying Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) type 2E, a genetic disease that affects the peripheral nerves in the nervous system. Perez-Lopez also currently serves as an ambassador for the CMT Research Foundation and mentors several graduate and undergraduate students in his lab.
Being a part of a program that will help him continue to serve the community is exactly what Perez-Lopez wants. He and his fellow SEC Emerging Scholars recently traveled to the University of Arkansas to participate in a career preparation workshop, which featured several opportunities for professional development and networking.
“The conference was amazing because we got to interact with other professors, junior faculty members, other graduate students and postdocs at different SEC institutions,” Perez-Lopez said. “We can see how (academia) is, how it varies for different schools. We now have a better idea of what we need to get done to become a professor.”
Perez-Lopez feels most fortunate for having the chance to meet other doctoral students and postdocs, as they’ll be able to “support each other along the way” of their academic journeys. But without the people he’s met at MU and the professors that have turned into mentors, Perez-Lopez says he wouldn’t be an Emerging Scholar.
“The MARC mentoring program through the School of Medicine has provided me really good insight on how to be a mentor and how to mentor different students, with different backgrounds, with different goals,” Perez-Lopez said. “The community graduate student organizations and faculty mentors have helped me through applying for fellowships and getting letters of reference. The resources at MU have been extremely helpful.”