CAS Magazine: Students

Meet the Scholar: Emmanuel Assefa (C’27)

Emmanuel Assefa (C’27) is a first-year student majoring in biochemistry. His participation in the Regents STEM Scholars program helped jumpstart his academic journey in the natural sciences. We sat down with Assefa to discuss the program, his first year on the Hilltop and all things research.

What has been the highlight of the program so far?

The summer was incredible – going to a vineyard and taking samples, sitting in labs for countless hours a week and doing real science. My favorite part had to be getting to know Heidi Elmendorf and Jeanetta Floyd, who mentored us very closely because we still didn’t know what college would be like and they reassured us every step of the way.

What is your biggest takeaway from the program?

My biggest takeaway was to dream again. They taught me that I didn’t just have a seat at the table, but the power to radically change things for me and others and that I could be what I wanted to be but the first thing I needed to do was to dream again.

What does it mean to be a Regents STEM Scholar?

Being in the Regents STEM Scholar program means being part of a community of like-minded individuals who are here for your development. Not everything in college will be a success and not everything will be easy, but I can also count on the Regents STEM Scholars program to be around when thinks do get shaky.

The Regents STEM Scholars Program is celebrating seven years of first-generation college students like Assefa gaining hands-on experience with scientific research before the academic year begins — as well as support throughout their time at Georgetown. The program was founded to augment Georgetown’s existing support systems with an eye towards the mentorship and experience required for scholars pursuing degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). 

“We sought to build on the fabulous work of the Community Scholars Program to create additional layers of community and support that could help students better achieve their goals for a STEM education,” said Heidi Elmendorf, associate professor of biology who leads the program. “What had become clear to us is that students in STEM disciplines had needs for community and support that were quite specific, that we weren’t meeting, and that were leading us to be less successful in supporting these students.”

A woman with short, blonde hair holds a coffee mug and smiles. She stands in a classroom and walks among seated students.

Heidi Elmendorf teaches a biology class. Photo by Phil Humnicky.

Before most of their peers arrive on campus, scholars in the program arrive on the Hilltop for summer research. Each cohort works as a group conducting research for Glen Manor Vineyards, a winery in Warren County, Virginia. With guidance from core faculty members, like Jeanetta Floyd, students collect samples from the roots, soil and leaves of plants on the vineyard. 

The RSSP runs a year-round pop-up lab, designed and implemented by Alexandra DeCandia, that features microbiome research from a range of partners, from faculty labs to government organizations. This lab provides scholars with the opportunity to further develop their scientific research and professional skills before making the transition to other research positions. The lab is the RSSP in a microcosm, welcoming students into the scientific community and providing them with the skills and tools to thrive as students and researchers. 

For Elmendorf, bringing students into the scientific fold as people and as academics is incredibly important. In addition to the summer research and pop-up lab, the RSSP provides professional and financial support to scholars throughout their time at Georgetown.

“Creating communities that are inclusive and environments in which every individual fully matters as we work toward a shared purpose is a manifestation of caring for the whole person,” said Elmendorf. “Our students are incredibly smart, creative and determined. Research is difficult, and presenting students with an authentic research project from the get-go is a powerful way of demonstrating our belief in them and of making the very best use of their many talents.”

A generous gift from Joe Zimmel (C’75) fully funded the implementation and running of the Regents STEM Scholars Program for its first decade. 

“Georgetown invested in me by providing a scholarship that changed my life,” said Zimmel. “I am grateful to be able to try to do the same thing for these very talented young people. I hope others will do the same thing by creating and supporting scholarship initiatives in other academic areas at Georgetown.”

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