All the way to “Princeton University Molecular Biophysics Summer REU Program”

© Willmar Guzman Ulloa

Willmar Guzman Ulloa, is a native of the Dominican Republic, who transferred from Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago UTESA-Recinto in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, to City University of New York-Bronx Community College (CUNY-BCC) in 2017. Willmar has been involved in various research programs since his start at CUNY-BCC. He was selected to present at the 2019 CUR REU Symposium, after his participation in a project with the Princeton University Molecular Biophysics Program. ​

My name is Willmar Guzman Ulloa and I’m a Mathematics major. I’m from a small countryside in the Dominican Republic called Saballo in the county of Imbert, Puerto Plata. In spring 2017 I started college at the City University of New York - Bronx Community College (CUNY-BCC) as a Transfer Student from the Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago UTESA-Recinto Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. As I got into this marvelous campus (suggested by my friend Amado Suarez), I started filling the sense of family and the vibes of a community designed to help each of its members to succeed. From the professors to the tutors and all the resources and programs running on campus and fellow students, everyone is there waiting for you in order to help you. I have been blessed from the opportunity of being part of the CUNY-BCC family.

Right after I started college, Dr. QuanLei Fang, which at the moment was my Math-06 professor, invited me to be at the BCC Math & Science Fair 2017. I said “Yes!” with all my enthusiasm. From participating at the Math & Science Fair, I started gaining confidence and applied to the CUNY Research Scholars Program (CRSP) in the Fall 2017 Semester after Dr. Eugene Mananga called me into his office and encouraged me to apply for it. Weeks later, I got an email saying I have been selected to participate in this one-year Fellowship Program receiving and stipend and gaining experience in Undergraduate Research.

Furthermore, I applied for the position of Student Ambassador at the Admissions Department at BCC and got my first job at college. To finish the incredible 2017 year, I got the opportunity to meet, who at the time was the SGA President at BCC, Mary Martinez at the CRSP who encouraged me to apply for the Black Engineer of the Year Award STEM Global Competitiveness Conference (BEYA-STEM 2018). I truly thank Mary for pushing me to apply for BEYA-STEM because I wasn't sure if I would have been a good fit for the BCC representation in the event. Thanks to Mary, I meet Dr. Neal Phillip, Chairperson of the Chemistry and Chemical Technology Department at BCC. Meeting Professor Fang, Professor Mananga, Mary and Dr. Phillip was the best in my 2017 college year.

After finally being selected to participate at BEYA-STEM 2018, where I got a great experience and met lots of students that are now friends, I participated again from the Math and Science Fair at BCC. After the Science Fair, Dr. Neal Phillip opened a convocation to apply for a Study Abroad Program to Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I applied to it and after a rigorous selection process, I finally got a call saying that I have been chosen to be part of the delegation. It was one of the best experiences in my life where I not only did sustainability work, data collection and learned a lot about Palma de Mallorca, but I also met incredible people. After the trip, I got the opportunity to participate in the CUNY Symposium at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. And to finish 2018, I got selected to participate in the Global Eco-Tourism Asia-Pacific Conference 2018 at Townsville, Queensland in Australia. It was such an incredible experience to visit Australia with my friend Grissel de Jesus and learn about the incredible work the Sustainability Team of the Townsville Council is doing. 2018 couldn’t end better than that and meeting the Sustainability Team was awesome.

This year, I applied to the Princeton University Molecular Biophysics Research Experience for Undergraduates Program after participating from an Info Session about the opportunity that Professor Fang organized. The Program Director, Professor Jannete Carey Ph.D., came to campus and shared information about the program, inviting us to apply to something that, at first, looks a little too high, but it’s not. After the Interview Process, each student has to be matched with a faculty member that is willing to work with an intern from the program. I waited till the last minute because my background in pure math was complicated for the type of research they had available at the time. Because of that, Professor Carey called me and offered a position with Dr. Istvan Pelczer, Program Coordinator, at the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility.

Since I did my research on NMR for the CRSP, I accepted and was very excited to be a part of something as big as this program at, not only an Ivy League University but also a leading worldwide university with a cutting edge technology NMR Facility. The program covered travel expenses, housing and gave a stipend with an extra for food (very generous). Notably, I was not the only student selected from BCC, two other students went with me representing CUNY-Bronx Community College. Kariam Yihune (Computer Science) and Yasiris Ortiz (Computer Science, who also represented DR at the Pan American Games at Lima, Peru) from BCC also went to Princeton as part of the 12 students selected from all around the US. I see this as a great achievement for all of us and our college.

This past summer was just awesome. Once at Princeton, I started working with Kariam in a project called “Identification of Honey using CRAFT Interface and Cross-Referencing to Elucidate Distinctions in Sugar Composition”. Long name, however, the project was fascinating and we worked with Dr. Pelczer and Kenith Conover at the NMR facility for 2 months on it. CRAFT stands for Complete Reduction to Amplitude Frequency Table which is a newly developed program to analyze complex mixtures using NMR Free Induction Decay FID’s spectrums. We tested it with Quantitative 13C-NMR Spectroscopy and its performance was above expected. With the coding abilities of Kariam, we developed a systematic approach to identify and isolate single molecules in the mixture to further create a fingerprint of different kinds of honey. The final goal of the research was to develop a system that could be used to avoid honey adulteration and falsification by creating a database of profiles. Thus, having the system identifying the composition and concentration of the different sugars and also added elements that shouldn’t be there, depending on the type of honey being analyzed.

The research used Honey as a matter of study because it’s a highly complex mixture in which converges many different kinds of sugars (monosaccharides, disaccharides, and oligosaccharides) at different concentrations. Since the sugars are carbohydrates, it makes it the best fit for 13C-NMR Spectroscopy. Also, Honey is commonly used in the Food Industry and in Metabolomics, moving billions of dollars just in the US.

After the program ends, one student is nominated to represent the program at the Council on Undergraduate Research Symposium, which takes place in Virginia. I got nominated by the Program Director Professor Jannette Carey. Just after the semester started, I got an email about my selection to be part of the event representing the City University of New York Bronx Community College and the Princeton University Molecular Biophysics Program. The CUR-Symposium 2019 was such an incredible experience. Meeting and sharing ideas and experiences with some of the most prominent undergraduate researchers of the country is such an honor. I can’t describe my fascination with all the work that has been done by all the students that were participants. It was a pleasure to meet students who came from all over the country to this national conference after doing a great job at their individual research projects. This is the best part of every event or project I have been involved in. Meeting new people with similar or very divergent interests but pushing hard to reach their goals it’s such an inspiration.

Nothing is that far that can’t be reached, but the best strategy is to go by small jumps, short steps that will give you the confidence and the ability to run and get as high as you can dream in your life. It’s all about you and the people that you lend the power of influencing you. Never stop pursuing the best of yourself, because at last there is no one to blame but you.

By: Willmar Guzman Ulloa



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