BioCORE Scholars Program: Changing the face of medicine

Despite a focused effort to build a diverse physician workforce, students of color are still underrepresented in medical schools. The BioCORE Scholars Program at SPU hopes to change that.

Launched in 2016, the leadership program builds community, promotes academic success, and creates mentoring networks for underrepresented and first-generation college students in the biomedical sciences.

The program gave Laarni Aguila ’19 the support she needed to chase her dreams. Aguila was always interested in science. Originally from the Philippines, she grew up watching her father, a general practice physician, care for a population afflicted by easily preventable diseases. After her father’s death, she moved to Washington with her mother and brother.

“In high school, I completed the Running Start program that allowed me to take college credit courses in biology. learned how amazing medical research
was, and I knew I wanted to be a scientist,” Aguila said.

At the end of her first year at SPU, Aguila was introduced to the BioCORE Scholars Program. Once accepted, she was placed in a cohort of students who took the same science classes, studied together, and performed hands-on research during a summer internship. In addition, Aguila and her classmates were paired with peer and faculty mentors and networked with professional scientists.

“BioCORE brings in several guest speakers. As an undergraduate, it was great to talk with scientists who are working in the spaces I aspire to be in,” she said.

That connection changed everything for her.

“I feel like I’ve spent my life proving my intellectual abilities because of the way I look,” Aguila said. “Suddenly I was surrounded by students and professors who looked like me and faced the same challenges I did.” The experience was so rewarding, she became a mentor to the students who followed her, sharing her own experiences and supporting their hard work.

Since graduation, Aguila has continued the research she started as an undergraduate at the University of Washington’s Harborview Lab with Gwen Wood, research assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Aguila was accepted to the University of Washington’s graduate program for microbiology for this fall. She hopes to become a professor and inspire undergraduates to pursue a career in medical research.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you come from — you can become a scientist,” Aguila said. “The SPU faculty inspired and supported me, and I hope to do the same with my students.”

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