Robert Wardlow graduated in 2012 from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County with a B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology. As an EXROP student, he conducted structural biology research in the lab of HHMI investigator Axel Brunger at Stanford University School of Medicine. He will begin an M.D./Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University in 2012.
Q. What kind of support have you had in pursuing a career in science?
A. I went to a high school that was predominantly Caucasian, where I was one of the only highly performing African American students; I was the first black valedictorian to graduate from my high school. There were definitely times where I felt isolated because of that. It was a challenge being someone interested in science at a school where most of the African American students don’t pursue those kinds of disciplines, but I had the support of my family to help me through a lot of that.
When I came to UMBC, I was a part of the Meyerhoff Scholars program, which provides a tremendous amount of support for students, especially minority students, entering science fields. So I was always around other students who were highly motivated and had aspirations and goals similar to my own. I also had a great amount of academic advising and personal support from the program itself. So because of the Meyerhoff program, I haven’t had to deal with the types of issues I faced in high school, because I’ve had a much larger support network around me.
Q. How might you help provide similar support for others?
A. One of the reasons that I eventually want to go into academia is to have the opportunity to impact younger people, especially minority students—to inspire them to pursue science or whatever field they choose to go into. I’ve already had the chance to do some of this by going back to serve as a counselor for Meyerhoff Scholars over the summer. I want to be able to inspire them in the same way that I’ve been inspired during my development. I want to help increase racial diversity in the sciences not only by increasing the diversity myself, but by serving as a role model for those who come after me to do the same. With that will come many other forms of diversity, and individuals with various interests and beliefs.
Q. What is the main value of the Gilliam fellowship for you?
A. It’s about opportunity. By coming in to graduate school with my own fellowship, I have the opportunity to not be limited in what I want to pursue. It opens up a greater degree of possibility. As you become more accomplished and earn more honors, it gives you a greater platform to speak and have people listen and take seriously the things that you say. Having the prestigious Gilliam Fellowship backing me already opens up opportunities to share my views with others and have others share their views with me.
Photo: Paul Morigi/AP Images for HHMI