From a bachelor’s degree to Ph.D. bound

6/8/2009 - By: Jon Fortenbury

Mark Lemos never even considered going to graduate school before he joined the McNair Scholars Program. And now, as of May, he has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in biotechnology from the University of Nevada, Reno.

“McNair convinced me that there’s a lot more opportunities if I do go to graduate school,” Lemos, a 23-year-old from Yerington, Nev., said. “It’s a pretty outstanding program.”

Graduating as the valedictorian at Yerington High School in 2004, Lemos only applied to the University of Nevada, Reno for college. Having an excellent high school GPA and coming from a low-income family, he expected to be offered more financial aid than he received. Thankfully, some people in his community stepped up and helped fund his first year.

“I felt real fortunate they were nice enough to do that,” Lemos said.

Lemos describes that experience as humbling. His sophomore year of college, he received more financial aid- enough to cover the costs of his schooling.

Later in his college years, McNair Scholars Assistant Director Marsha Dupree came to one of Lemos’ classes to talk about the research project that McNair offers. This interested Lemos.

Originally planning to earn his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry last spring, Lemos altered his plans. After joining the McNair Scholars Program- a program that helps prepare low-income and first generation college students for graduate school- he decided to get on a fast track program so he could earn both his bachelor’s degree and master’s degree at the same time.

“I decided to just go for it,” Lemos said. “It was kind of a simple choice- one more year and you have a Master’s.”

The McNair Scholars program has greatly benefited Lemos. Aside from convincing him to go to graduate school, the McNair Scholars Program also helped Lemos by waiving his Ph.D. application fees, providing him a GRE prep course and letters of recommendation, helping with financial aid questions and serving as another set of eyes for his resume and personal statement for graduate school.

Lemos also appreciated the community aspect of the McNair Scholars Program.

“It (McNair) was kind of interesting to become part of a family,” Lemos said. “You realize you’re not the one who’s come from a different and nontraditional background.”

But perhaps the biggest thing that McNair Scholars helped Lemos with was the research project, in which he had the opportunity to present at the University of California, Berkeley. For this project, he’s looking at growing algae in Nevada and its use to make biofuels. He received the NSF-EPSCoR CIP Grant in 2007 to fund his research. He hopes to get his work published when he finishes it.

“I think it (doing a research project) will help because not only is research exciting and applicable but it also definitely gives me a competitive edge over some of the other applicants who may have not been fortunate enough to work in a research lab,” Lemos said.

Another thing that the McNair Scholars Program provided Lemos was great advising and wonderful mentors, such as Dupree.

“She’s (Marsha Dupree) really an amazing lady,” Lemos said. “She does a lot. She’s a good counselor, listens and gives good advice…she’s definitely a valuable resource to the program.”

Lemos has had many accomplishments since entering college. In 2006, for his business plan, Lemos received a third place award at the Institute for Innovation & Informatics Business Plan Competition. In 2007, he won first place at the Undergraduate Lt. Governor’s Cup Competition for the business plan that best employs clean, renewable or efficient energy technologies and services.

He received the “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges” award, which recognizes students for the work they do while in school, such as volunteer work, research, leadership roles and academics.

In the fall, Lemos plans to apply for Ph.D. programs while continuing to work on his research project. He’s applied and got accepted into Ph.D. programs at the University of Nevada, Reno Ph.D. and Keck Graduate Institute but is still uncertain of his plans. He might do a Fulbright Fellowship. He also hopes to receive his Ph.D. at the same time as his MBA, if possible.

After school, Lemos wants to combine science and business. He’d like to take aspects of his research and apply them to start up businesses and entrepreneurships. He finds it valuable to be able to talk to scientists as well as business people.

“To be able to bridge that gap (between science and business) is pretty intriguing to me,” Lemos said.
Dupree thinks Lemos will continue to do remarkable things after college.

“He has a lot of potential,” Dupree said. “In the future he will be someone we will read about because he’s so creative and he has some ideas that will help our community, our states and the world,” Dupree said.


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