Hope College sophomore Maria Eguiluz of Redford has been chosen to participate in the national “Exceptional Research Opportunities Program” (EXROP) of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

EXROP provides outstanding summer research experiences to undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds or from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences to encourage them to pursue careers in academic science.   Last year, 60 students nationwide participated in the highly selective program.

The participating students are matched with HHMI scientists around the country who have volunteered to provide mentored research experiences for 10 weeks during the summer.  EXROP students also attend meetings at HHMI headquarters, where they present their research in a poster session, network with their peers and HHMI scientists, and hear from scientists from various backgrounds and in various stages of their careers.  Selection includes a $4,500 award.

Eguiluz is a biology and computer science double-major.  Through EXROP this summer, she will be conducting research at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York with Dr. Gregory Hannon, whose lab works primarily on mechanisms and applications of RNA interference and is also interested in cancer biology, in particular in developing tools to understand cancer initiation and progression.

Eguiluz has been active in research at Hope since even before her freshman year began.  As a high school student, she participated in the college’s REACH (Research Experiences Across Cultures at Hope) program, which engages high school students in collaborative research at the college full-time for several weeks during the summer.  Following her freshman year, during the summer of 2012, she conducted research full-time at Hope in the laboratory of biologist Dr. Aaron Best, in a collaborative project with computer scientist Dr. Matthew DeJongh.

During her first year at Hope, she was enrolled in the research-based, year-long “Phage Genomics Research Initiative,” a freshman-level laboratory class established through an award to the college from HHMI.  Also as a freshman last year, she participated in the college’s FACES (Fostering A Community of Excellence in Science) peer-mentoring program for first-year students interested in careers in the natural and applied sciences who are from groups traditionally underrepresented nationally in such careers.  This year, she is one of the upperclassmen mentoring one of the college’s freshman students.  Both REACH and FACES are initiatives in science education at Hope funded through grants to the college from HHMI.

Eguiluz’s activities at the college also include the orchestra.  She is a 2011 graduate of Zeeland East High School, and the daughter of Luis and Maria Eguiluz of Redford.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is a nonprofit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation’s largest philanthropies.  HHMI plays a prominent role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the United States.

Founded in 1953 by aviator and industrialist Howard R. Hughes, HHMI is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., and employs more than 3,000 individuals across the U.S.  HHMI has an endowment of $16.1 billion, of which the institute spent $800 million for research and distributed $119 million in grant support for science education in fiscal year 2012.