Biology Student First at EWU to Win Prestigious STEM Scholarship

Marcos Monteiro Goldwater Scholar

To say EWU biology student Marcos Monteiro is busy would be an understatement. Between classes, studying, tutoring, research and taking care of a new baby––it is a wonder he ever sleeps. But you can bet he found time this spring to celebrate an impressive accomplishment, a prestigious honor never-before-awarded to an EWU student: Monteiro is a Barry Goldwater Scholar.

The Barry Goldwater Scholarship, established by Congress in 1986 to serve as a living memorial to the lifetime work of Senator Barry Goldwater, is one of the most competitive STEM scholarships in the country. Monteiro, a junior at Eastern, is one of only eight students in the state of Washington to receive the honor this year. The scholarship will provide him with $7,500 to complete his senior year in the fall at Eastern and do extra course work next year in preparation for graduate school.

It’s been a heady time for Monteiro, a native of Brazil who began his higher-education experience at a community college in Spokane. “I’m applying for a PhD [program] this fall,” Monteiro says. “If I’m approved, I will start the PhD program next fall.” He says he plans to apply for nearly a dozen grad schools across the country, most on the West Coast.

His professors are confident he’ll get his top pick.

“He’s an awesome student, probably one of the best I’ve had here,” says Andrea Castillo, an associate professor in biology and one of Monteiro’s mentors. “I don’t see him having any trouble getting into any school.”

Monteiro with his Barry Goldwater Scholarship.

Monteiro, a 4.0 GPA student, is studying microbiology and molecular biology. His career objective, he says, involves participating in research related to infectious disease. He’s already well on his way toward making that happen.

Last year, for example, he studied the use of manuka honey, a type of honey produced in New Zealand touted as having antibacterial properties, on burn patients. Monteiro helped determine that the honey depletes iron from the infection causing bacterium, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, effectively killing it. “Consequently, manuka honey can be used to treat these patients,” he says. “And knowing its antimicrobial action can help the medical community to better understand how manuka honey can treat infections.”

Monteiro presented his work at multiple conferences last year, including an oral presentation at the Murdock Undergraduate Research Conference. According to Castillo, the biology department expects to publish the study soon thanks to Monteiro’s research and experiments.

Monteiro at the 2019 EWU Student Research & Creative Works Symposium

Currently, Monteiro is involved in a new project alongside Castillo and another mentor, Javier Ochoa-Repáraz, an assistant professor of biology at EWU. They are working to engineer a probiotic––typically defined as a class of healthy, gut-dwelling bacteria or yeast––that they hope might one day mitigate the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis.

“This shows students that they can do research at Eastern to help them advance or start their careers,” Ochoa-Repáraz says of the national recognition of Monteiro’s work. “Students can have what they think is only available at larger institutions.”

This summer, Monteiro will hit pause on the probiotic research for an internship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. The intensive, nine-week program will give Monteiro more biomedical research experience.

Monteiro says he couldn’t have become Eastern’s first Goldwater Scholar without the help of mentors such as Castillo, Ochoa-Repáraz and Judd Case, another EWU biology professor. He also says that EWU’s S-STEM Program, led by Joanna Joyner-Matos, and the McNair Program, led by Christina Torres Garcia, were crucial to his success.

The Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program, funded by the National Science Foundation, allows STEM students to focus on undergraduate studies rather than paid employment.

The Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program helps to prepare talented, traditionally underrepresented students for doctoral studies through involvement in research and other scholarly activities.

After completing a doctorate and postdoctoral work, Monteiro says he hopes to become a university researcher, serving as a professor and mentor for students like himself. The beauty of his Goldwater Scholarship, he adds, is that it shows that Eastern students can, and should, aim high.

“I think this is a way to open doors for other people as well,” Monteiro says. “To show an example, like myself, an immigrant who went to community college, that Eastern can do that for them.”

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