At 20 years old, Kaytlin Alzugaray is a junior at the Honors College who has conducted more than four years of quality cancer research, presented at more than a dozen conferences across the country and earned a research position at Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute next summer.
Last month, Alzugaray added another prestigious accomplishment to her curriculum vitae. She received the 2020 Goldwater Scholarship in acknowledgement of her scientific talent and potential. Established by Congress in 1986, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation awards undergraduates who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. Alzugaray is the second FIU student to receive the scholarship.
Alzugaray will receive up to $7,500 per year until she graduates FIU; the scholarship covers tuition, books, fees and other expenses. She will also receive mentoring services through the foundation’s community of biomedical scientists and professionals.
Only 396 scholars were selected from a pool of 1,343 undergraduates this year.
"I am beyond honored to be distinguished as a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholar,” Alzugaray said. "This award is not just for me, but for every professor, mentor and peer who has ever motivated, encouraged or supported me during my undergraduate journey at Florida International University and beyond. I am blessed and humbled to receive this award. I will utilize this fellowship to continue my scientific journey and advocate for women to be proportionally represented in the STEM field."
Alzugaray describes herself as "a diligent and dedicated undergraduate student who is passionate about translational cancer research." She envisions herself “discovering new pharmacological treatment options for cancer patients worldwide.”
In order to achieve her dream, Alzugaray intends on obtaining an M.D.-Ph.D. and becoming a physician-scientist to continue researching new cancer treatment alternatives and providing effective and efficient patient care. She sees herself as destined to become a leader in the fight against cancer, a disease that has affected multiple members of her family.
“Since Kindergarten, my parents have always encouraged me to take my education seriously and put 100 percent effort into any activity I engage in,” Alzugaray said.
Alzugaray started her FIU career at the university’s Academy for Advanced Academics, a dual-enrollment program. Today, she is pursuing a dual bachelor's degree in biological sciences and psychology, with two minors in sociology/anthropology and chemistry, and three certificates: women and gender studies, physical therapy and behavior analysis. In addition, Alzugaray has completed more than 1,531 hours in various clinical settings as an emergency medical technician and paramedic.
Today, Alzugaray is sponsored by the MARC U*STAR program at FIU, a program that gives undergraduates professional biomedical research opportunities. She is currently a member in Professor Alexander Agoulnik's laboratory, where she investigates the treatment of osteoporosis at the molecular level. Alzugaray considers the program to be an extraordinary opportunity that facilitates enriching research experiences and support for next-generation scientists.
“The things that we do normally with our graduate students, [MARC U*STAR students] are exposed to as juniors. I’ve watched her grow, and I’m very pleased with the development that I’ve seen in her,” said Professor DeEtta Mills, a director in the program.
Alzugaray is also spearheading a global communications project through FIU’s Global Learning Medallion program. She created an original and educational pamphlet about ovarian cancer and distributed hundreds of pamphlets to hospitals and clinics throughout Florida and the Caribbean in order to promote sexual reproductive health. Alzugaray continues to distribute them to disadvantaged individuals who do not have access to this life-changing information.
“I have a responsibility as a human being to engage in community service and utilize my knowledge to help others. I truly believe that if you educate one individual, you educate an entire community.” Alzugaray said.
“Oftentimes, a lot of people are not familiar with the terms involved with cancer research. I wanted to ensure that the information I provided was accessible and understandable for all individuals.”
Now with the Goldwater Scholarship behind her, Alzugaray is motivated as ever to achieve her goals.
“My passion to help others has evolved and become an integral part of the educated, diversified and motivated Hispanic woman I am today,” Alzugaray said.