Mason Mentorship Fuels Student Success

In the summer of 2019, senior bioinformatics major Nicky Solares landed a prestigious internship at the Allen Institute of Immunology in Seattle, Washington. The Institute fosters research about the human immune system and researches cures for immunological diseases.

Solares spent the summer working with single cell transcriptomic data, examining genes in individual cells in certain populations. Her work in cell-labeling contributed to the Institute’s in-house database.

Solares’s achievements didn’t come easily or quickly. When she started at George Mason University in 2014, she wanted to be a pre-med student. Through her coursework, she realized she wasn’t pursuing her passions to the fullest and decided to switch her major.

“I wanted to find something that combined my love for science and data,” Solares said. She found that combination in Bioinformatics and declared her minor in Computational Data Sciences (CDS).

Switching disciplines is not always an easy task but Solares was supported by her professor and mentor Dr. Joseph Marr. After taking CDS 130 with him in 2016, Marr asked Solares to participate in one of his medical informatics research projects and join the department’s Students, Teachers Assistants and Researchers (STARS) program of learning assistants. The STARS program gave Solares the opportunity to help other students while expanding her own knowledge and data science skillset.

Solares credits Marr with her confidence in her abilities. “Under his leadership I have learned a lot about myself and about the industry,” she says. “He taught me how to be a leader, how to become an actual researcher, and how to have confidence in myself.”

Because of this self-confidence, Solares felt comfortable enough to apply for her first internship. At AstraZeneca in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Solares performed immunological research in its Respiratory Inflammation and Autoimmunity unit. Her supervisor was so impressed with her work, she offered Solares a summer position at the Allen Institute of Immunology.

According to Biology Department Chair, Geri Grant, “Nicky’s work ethic is strong, and she continues to take advantage of learning opportunities throughout the semester.” In November, Solares will attend a bioinformatics hackathon in Dallas, Texas. Solares and other students who share her passion for science and data will be working in teams to solve different medical problems and cultivate medical research ideas.

“Nicky Solares embodies all that we are looking for in our students.” Grant added. “Her passion about her work, her exceptional intellect, and her ability to take smart risks to grow create a great success story.”