Cassell McMillian is embracing a future that is unique among his family.

McMillian, Virginia Tech’s inaugural Beckman Scholar and second year biochemistry major in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says growing up in rural Virginia combined with parents who worked hard, encouraged him to be the best version of himself, and to never settle for less has been a guiding principle.

“This program will give me a leg up to getting into a Ph.D. program and continuing my education to a level that no one else in my family has achieved,” said McMillian, who is also minoring in chemistry. “I don’t ever want to sell myself short of my true potential and look back on what could have been. This unbelievable opportunity goes beyond the here and now — and my future as a chemist and research scientist.”

Earlier this year, the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation announced that Virginia Tech was among 12 universities and colleges selected as the 2021 class of Beckman Scholars Program awardees. The institutions were selected after a rigorous application process, which included a two-part review led by a panel of scientific experts. Members of LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH’s Foundation Relations team worked with Amanda Morris, director of Virginia Tech’s Beckman Scholars Program, to submit a competitive application package, securing Virginia Tech’s place among recognized colleges and universities.

“The applicant pool for the Beckman Scholars Program was an extremely competitive one and the review process meticulous; we are excited to announce our 2021 Beckman Scholars Program award winners, a range of universities that includes both past awardees and new institutions we are confident will host excellent research programs for their undergraduates,” said Anne Hultgren, executive director of the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

The Beckman Scholars Program is a 15-month mentored research experience for exceptional undergraduate students in chemistry, biochemistry, and biological sciences. The program leverages funding provided by the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation to form a partnership with the Fralin Life Sciences Institute to provide an undergraduate research experience on Virginia Tech’s campus. Through unique programming in communication, leadership, grantsmanship, and diversity and inclusion awareness, the program seeks to cultivate the next generation of scientific leaders.

Starting in summer 2021, McMillian will begin work with professor of biomaterials and bioprocessing Kevin Edgar and assistant professor of physics Rana Ashkar centered on the design, synthesis, and characterization of robust, biocompatible, polymer-augmented liposomes for the delivery of hydrophobic drugs and messenger ribonucleic acid vaccines. McMillian will learn how to synthesize and characterize novel copolymers based upon renewable polysaccharides and be trained in the Ashkar Lab to evaluate the structural and mechanical properties of liposomal nanoparticles augmented by the novel block copolymers synthesized in the Edgar Lab.

“The Beckman Scholars Program places Virginia Tech and the selected scholars among an elite group of research institutions and researchers,” said Morris, also professor and associate chair of the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science. “With the support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, Virginia Tech can provide exemplary students with an unparalleled, fully funded research experience that sets them on a path to achieving great things. Our mentors are excited to have the opportunity to shepherd the next generation of innovators through their undergraduate career.”

“The Beckman Scholars Program is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will be life changing for me. Not only will I be able to do undergraduate research, but also have a mentor who will help me along the way on projects that will make me a stronger student and researcher,” McMillian said.

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