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Hofer to Participate in HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program

Hofer to Participate in HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program

Posted by Jenna Ray on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014

Ellie Hofer ’15, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is one of only a few students nationwide selected for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). EXROP provides outstanding summer research experiences to bright, motivated undergraduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.

Once accepted into the program, students are matched with HHMI scientists who have volunteered to provide mentored research experiences. Hofer will likely work with Dr. Robert Sah at the University of California-San Diego. She will assist a member of Sah’s team engineering artificial articular cartilage.

“I’m glad I got a bioengineering assignment, since I’m interested in that aspect of biology,” Hofer says. “Work goes directly from the lab bench to clinical trials, which is something I’m interested in: connecting lab work to direct medical applications.”

Hofer is well prepared for this kind of work, as she already has a fair amount of lab and research experience. In the summer of 2013, she took part in HHMI-funded research on the bacterium Helicobacter pylori with Timna Wyckoff, associate professor of biology. Hofer later applied for an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) position with Rachel Gibbons, assistant professor of biology, conducting research on cancer immunology. She plans to apply to this program again next fall, as she believes it is important for her “to continue this work.”

“Figuring out the answers to bigger questions is fun,” she says. “That, and being an important part of a professor's research is invigorating.”

A biochemistry major, Hofer plans to attend graduate school after leaving Morris. This is an area in which the EXROP experience will prove beneficial, as HHMI works with EXROP students after their summer study programs to help them pursue careers in academic science. Because of her participation in the program, Hofer is eligible for the Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study as well as an HHMI capstone project with Sah in 2015.

Hofer’s EXROP experience will begin on May 14, when she will travel to HHMI headquarters in Chevy Chase, Maryland, to attend the program’s annual meeting. Here she will have the chance to watch participants from 2013 present their research findings. Hofer will present at the 2015 event.

Students can only apply for the EXROP program after they are nominated by an HHMI-affiliated faculty member or program director. Hofer was nominated by Paul Z. Myers, associate professor of biology and Pathways to Science project leader.

“Ellie was a standout student in cell biology and was also an active and enthusiastic participant in the HHMI summer research at Morris, so she was a natural candidate for the EXROP,” he says.

The Pathways to Science Program is supported in part by a grant to the University of Minnesota, Morris from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Precollege and Undergraduate Science Education Program. More information is available at