UNLV student Sophia Quinton – a junior in the Honors College majoring in biology – was awarded a Goldwater Scholarship for 2018. This marks the second consecutive year that a UNLV student has won the highly competitive award.
Quinton has been laying the groundwork for pursuing an M.D.-Ph.D. with a focus on cancer research. But her unwavering dedication to cancer research formed long before she came to UNLV.
During sixth grade, Quinton was diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia and underwent more than a year of intense treatment. Her resolve to survive childhood cancer has transformed into a tenacity to help those diagnosed with similar diseases.
“My battle with cancer at age 11 inspired me,” Quinton said. “I was always interested in science, but now I had a strong reason to devote myself to research that would ultimately impact others.”
By the end of her first semester, she was working as an undergraduate research assistant in the bioinformatics lab of assistant professor Mira Han. Working in Han’s bioinformatics lab has given Quinton a chance to join the world-wide collaborative effort to understand the complexities of cancer.
“My work in the lab focuses on parts of DNA called retrotransposons, often referred to as ‘jumping genes’ because of their ability to move into new locations. We know that these genes are over-expressed in cancer.”
Under Han’s guidance, Quinton analyzes data from the Cancer Genome Atlas to identify correlations in between miRNA and genes. She is currently finalizing two co-authored publications based on this work.
When not in class or the lab, Quinton remains actively engaged on campus and serves as both a Bennett Honors Mentor and Hixson-Lied Scholar Peer Mentor. She also worked as an undergraduate teaching assistant in Microbiology during her sophomore year.
Andrew Hanson, associate dean of the Honors College, said Quinton’s research experience coupled with her stellar GPA made her an ideal candidate for the Goldwater Scholarship. And Hanson would know – he has served as UNLV’s representative for nationally competitive awards over the past five years.
The application process for these prestigious scholarships can be daunting, especially the prospect of crafting a compelling personal statement.
“Applying for a scholarship like the Goldwater requires a lot of thought, hard work, and courage,” Hanson said. “It is no easy task to stare at a blank computer screen and try to find words that express who you are and what you want to do.”
Hanson first met with Quinton during her freshman year. “She knew exactly where she wanted to take her career, and she has never wavered."
Now, as a Goldwater Scholar, Quinton is one big step closer to achieving her goals. Beyond the financial benefit of the scholarship, the award carries an impressive academic distinction while also indicating a major endorsement of her budding research career.
“Being named a Goldwater Scholar affirms that what I am doing is meaningful and worth pursuing. It encourages me to continue takings steps toward my dream, even if I sometimes doubt myself. Perseverance is key.”
One of only 211 Goldwater Scholars this year, Quinton was selected from a pool of 1,280 students from 455 institutions nationwide. Named for the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, the federally endowed scholarship program seeks students majoring in natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering who demonstrate a strong commitment to research and great potential for significant contributions to their chosen field. The award covers the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to $7,500 per undergraduate year.