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From Freshman to Graduate Student In Just Four Years

April 21, 2015

Most students who enrolled at UC Merced in 2011 are gearing up for graduation and starting to think about a job or continuing their education.

Edwin Shen got a head start on the rest of his class, completing his undergraduate degree in just three years. He was accepted into graduate programs at UC Irvine and Rutgers University but ultimately decided to stay at UC Merced, where he is now a first-year Ph.D. student in Biological Engineering and Small-Scale Technologies (BEST).

“I chose to stay here because I really liked the McCloskey lab. It’s a very supportive atmosphere, and I really enjoy working there every day,” Shen said. “Plus, the fact that this is a smaller school was very attractive to me. You can get to know everyone in your graduate cohort, and it’s a great environment for research.”

Shen researches blood vessels and vascular therapies that may eventually help to better treat heart disease. Specifically, he is working to generate mural cells from embryonic stem cells.

Mural cells are an integral part of the blood vessel — without them, the vessel can’t contract or stabilize, or they might leak and start bleeding. The idea is to include these created mural cells in vascular grafts — transplantable synthetic blood vessels — as a way to make the grafts more stable and successful.

In addition to spending time in the lab, Shen has worked as a teaching assistant over the past year and has found the experience to be very rewarding.

“I took these same classes as an undergraduate, and I really enjoyed them then,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling to be able to pass that same experience on to younger students from the other side of the classroom.”

In May, Shen will give a research presentation for the Society for Advancement of Hispanics/Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) Seminar Series to encourage underrepresented ethnicities to pursue advanced research. After that, he will continue his research; he was recently awarded the BEST Summer Fellowship, which will support his time in the lab throughout the summer.