Chemical biology grad student José Velilla [G4] of the Gaudet Lab has been named as a recipient of HHMI’s Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study. The Gilliam Fellowship supports “exceptional graduate students who are committed to increasing diversity among scientific leaders.” Velilla is part of a class of 44 Gilliam Fellows announced this year.
“I’m so delighted that José was selected,” says MCB faculty Rachelle Gaudet. “He is a fantastic student with outstanding scientific potential. More importantly, he is committed to recruiting, mentoring and promoting diversity. I know he will embrace all the opportunities this program provides to learn and take the lead in new initiatives.”
“We are very excited to receive this fellowship,” adds Velilla. “Something very special about this fellowship is that it also comes with community. It is given to a cohort who all share an interest in becoming leaders that work to increase diversity and inclusion in the sciences. I am very grateful for the opportunity to become part of this community.”
The fellowship award will support his ongoing research on the bacterial toxin colibactin. Through a collaboration with the Balskus Lab, Velilla has been using x-ray crystallography to understand a precursor molecule and the enzyme that activates the toxin. “This is a very fun collaboration – the Balskus lab studies the enzyme from a more chemical perspective, and we do it from the structural biology side,” Velilla says.
In addition to their scientific qualifications, each Gilliam Fellowship applicant submits a career statement about how their personal experiences have shaped their science and their plans for making scientific communities more inclusive in the future. As part of the Gilliam Fellowship’s emphasis on diversity, advisers to the fellows participate in a training program geared toward improving faculty’s capacity to mentor diverse students.
“I care deeply about diversity and inclusion, and I know I can do more and do it better than I do now,” Gaudet says. “So I’m excited to participate in the mentorship training, and also learn from other mentors in the program.”
Velilla is grateful for the support he has received during his time at Harvard. “This fellowship was made possible because of Rachelle’s dedicated mentorship and encouragement,” he says. “The assistance of Vayu Maini-Rekdal, a G5 in the MCO program and previous recipient of the fellowship, was also crucial. He helped me reflect on my own life story and scientific project and offered advice.”
Velilla says he’s looking forward to joining the existing community of 256 Gilliam Fellowship recipients and toward helping raise awareness about the need for diversity in science labs.