Skip to main content

UNC School of Medicine Graduate students Kimberly Lukasik and Maria Ortiz-Juza were among 51 students from around the country named as Gilliam Fellows by the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced the largest-ever group of Gilliam Fellows – 51 graduate students conducting outstanding research in their respective scientific fields and their advisers who are committed to building a more inclusive scientific environment. Each adviser-student pair will receive an annual award of $53,000 for up to three years.

At the UNC School of Medicine, graduate students Kimberly Lukasik and Maria Ortiz-Juza were named as Gilliam Fellows, along with their respective advisors Stephanie Gupton, PhD, associate professor in the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and member of the UNC Neuroscience Center and the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Jose Rodriguez-Romaguera, PhD, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Psychiatry and member of the UNC Neuroscience Center and the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.

For her doctoral work, Lukasik uses a combination of in vivo mouse modeling and biochemical and cutting-edge light microscopy techniques – along with computational image analysis and molecular genetics – to define the mechanisms that control the dynamics and architecture of the actin cytoskeleton, cell shape change, and migration in melanoma. She is also dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as to K-12 science outreach. She is a part of the Cell Biology and Physiology department’s DEI committee, a cofounder of BBSP-BET, and a volunteer with organizations such as WinSPIRE and Shadow-A-Scientist. She earned a UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology service award in December 2021.

Ortiz-Juza’s research focusing on dissecting the precise brain circuitry involved in social behavior and motivation to understand dysfunctions that occur in anxiety and addiction. Previous to arriving at UNC, she worked as a post-baccalaureate with Khaled Moussawi, MD, PhD, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There, she validated and developed a fentanyl vapor self-administration model in mice to study opioid addiction.

The Gilliam Program invests in graduate students from populations historically excluded and underrepresented in science so that they are prepared to become scientific leaders.

“To support the development of these students as future scientific leaders, it’s crucial to provide high-quality mentoring, financial support, an inclusive lab environment, and a supportive community,” says David Asai, HHMI senior director for science education. “True change will not happen on campuses without the support and commitment of faculty and institutional leaders.”

Read the full HHMI announcement here.