Luis Fernando Schachner, a third year graduate student, jointly mentored by Neil Kelleher, chemistry, molecular biosciences, and medicine; and Yuan He, molecular biosciences, has been awarded a 2017 Gilliam Fellowship by Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The award recognizes “exceptional doctoral students who have the potential to be leaders in their fields and the desire to advance diversity and inclusion in the sciences.” The program’s ultimate goal is to prepare a diverse and highly-trained scientific workforce that can help develop the next generation of scientists.
Schachner is one of only 39 awardees across the nation and only the second graduate student at Northwestern to receive this honor.
As a Gilliam Fellow, Schachner will receive an annual award totaling $46,000, which includes a stipend, a training allowance, and an institutional allowance, for up to three years. The award also provides a year of mentoring development activities for Kelleher, Schachner’s advisor, including online training and an in-person workshop at HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland. This support is provided by HHMI in recognition of the mentoring challenges that may arise when the advisor and student come from different racial and/or cultural backgrounds.
Schachner came to the United States as a teenager, fleeing homophobic threats in Venezuela. “Growing up in Venezuela, I witnessed heartbreaking inequality and turmoil,” he says. “At 17, I arrived on Yale’s campus intending to major in international relations. All too familiar with oppression, I became an activist on campus. Participating in LGBT and Latinx advocacy groups as well as environmental campaigns solidified my passion for social activism.
As a graduate student at Northwestern, Schachner has spearheaded the development of new technology that measures protein and their complexes with high fidelity for metal binding and their chemical modifications. Schachner will use the approach to increase our fundamental understanding of how proteins control access to the human genome and how this goes awry in certain human cancers. He has already published two co-authored papers.
Schachner was nominated for the Gilliam award by Richard Silverman, chemistry, in his role as director of the NIGMS-funded Chemistry of Life Processes (CLP) Training Program. Schachner was awarded a University fellowship by the CLP Training Program and has been active participant in the program’s student-invited seminar series, graduate research forums, career development and entrepreneurship training.
He continues to promote diversity in STEM by tutoring local minority high school students and his work with major Chicago centers for Latino culture and advancement and the LGBTQ community.