Vertex Scholarship Gives Students the Opportunity to Make a Difference in Health Care and the Environment

Boston Public High School students Nora Nguyen and Sonny Mei will pursue their passions at UMass Amherst this fall


August 16, 2018

At the age of 11, Nora Nguyen was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After spending days and weeks in the hospital and in doctor’s offices, she became mesmerized by the medical professionals around her.

“That’s how I realized I wanted to become a doctor,” Nora said. “As I’ve moved forward through my education, I’ve become fascinated with the potential that science has to change lives.”

Nora, right, spends her afternoons working in our Chemical Development Lab with her manager, Dahrika Guerette

After a successful recovery and a newfound passion for science, Nora graduated high school this spring and is attending UMass Amherst in the fall on a pre-med track. As one of the two recipients of the Vertex Science Leaders Scholarship for 2018, her four years at UMass will be financially covered by Vertex, helping her to reach closer to her future aspirations.

“I want to do research on cancer and study medicine to become an MD-PhD,” she said in her application essay. “I aspire to one day start my career as an oncologist actively practicing and contributing to the cancer cure developments around the world.”

The second 2018 scholarship recipient is future environmental engineer, Sonny Mei. Throughout high school, Sonny was interested in sustainability and advocating for environmentally conscious practices in the City of Boston and around the globe.

On a 2017 trip to Uvita, Costa Rica with the Global Leadership Adventures’ Protecting the Pacific program, Sonny worked with people around the world to plant more than 100 trees in reusable plastic bags, clean plastics off several beaches, and learn about the effect of sea level rise in Costa Rica, among other environmental issues.

“In one project, my peers and I collaborated with a local artist and the Uvita community to build a whale sculpture out of 3,400 plastic bottles to spread awareness about plastic pollution occurring in the Pacific Ocean,” Sonny said. Throughout the three-week trip, work like this inspired Sonny to learn more about plastic pollution and find ways to use his education to solve the issue.

“I want to apply my physics knowledge to the environment,” said Sonny. “Not just through research, but also practical and sustainable ways to make the world better.”

Sonny Mei, right, works with his manager, Cavan Bligh, in our Process Chemistry Lab.

This summer, as part of the scholarship program, Nora and Sonny have become Vertex interns. After spending each morning in the Learning Lab with other high school interns, Nora spends each afternoon in the Chemical Development Lab with her manager Dahrika Guerette, while Sonny works with Cavan Bligh in the Process Chemistry Lab.

“Our scholarship program is all about empowering students with the opportunity to pursue their education and explore a future in science, technology, engineering, art or math (STEAM),” said Melodie Knowlton, Head of the Vertex Learning Lab. “It’s been great to see Nora and Sonny’s passions for science grow even further here this summer as they prepare for their next opportunity at UMass.”

In 2017, we expanded our STEAM education efforts with a 10-year, $50 million commitment, which includes an ongoing partnership with Boston Public Schools and a number of core programs aimed at expanding hands-on learning opportunities for students of all ages.

“As a leading biotech company that has grown up in Massachusetts’ thriving innovation ecosystem, we need to do our part to empower the next generation of scientists and researchers with the opportunities they need to reach their full potential,” said Jeff Leiden, our CEO. “We’re incredibly proud to support Nora and Sonny as they take this next step in their journey to pursue their passions and explore a future career in STEAM.”

To learn more about our commitment to help students like Nora and Sonny receive the hands-on learning and mentorship needed to succeed in STEAM careers, visit our STEM Education page.

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