MAY 18, 2022 — Reggie Jacob graduated from UTSA with his B.S. in biology in 2020. Soon after, he was on his way to a master’s degree, thanks to the university’s VIP Graduate Admission Program, which allows faculty members to recommend outstanding UTSA juniors or seniors with excellent academic records for invitations to return to the university to pursue graduate studies. Last week, Jacob crossed the stage with his M.S. in biotechnology from the UTSA College of Sciences.
Jacob chose to study biology and biotechnology because they aligned with his interest in science and research. Initially, he was drawn to educational opportunities available at UTSA, and throughout his time as a Roadrunner, he’s come to appreciate the curriculum for its challenging nature and emphasis on analytical reasoning.
“I love the ability to apply what I learn in class to the problems I face in the lab,” Jacob said. “My program has been focused on lab techniques which I have used abundantly in my internships.”
Students in the graduate-level biotechnology program can apply up to nine credit hours of an internship in a biotechnology company toward their 36-hour-degree program. Jacob first heard about the internship opportunity with bioAffinity Technologies from Valerie Sponsel, a graduate advisor and a professor in the college’s Department of Integrative Biology.
San Antonio-based bioAffinity Technologies is a privately held company that has a research lab located on the west side of the UTSA Main Campus. The firm works to address the need for non-invasive, early-stage cancer diagnosis and treatment.
During his first semester with bioAffinity, Jacob grew different cancer cell lines for various projects and gained significant knowledge of the biotechnology industry. He continued his internship with bioAffinity for a second semester and contributed to work discovering novel cancer treatments. Jacob’s internship with bioAffinity Technologies proved an effective way to explore his area of study, make connections with experts in his field and earn valuable class credit hours.
“I participated in both the basic research and the product development sides of the company, which gave me valuable insight into how a biotech organization operates,” he said.
Jacob is immensely grateful for the opportunity to conduct research under bioAffinity Vice President David Elzi, whom he calls a valued mentor. Elzi’s lessons about looking at and appreciating the scientific process in a way that could help solve society’s challenges personally resonated with Jacob.
“Being mentored by Dr. Elzi has been a wonderfully enriching experience,” Jacob recalled. “My input was always valued and encouraged, and my mistakes have been reimagined as learning experiences that have helped me grow as a researcher.”
Prior to earning his M.S. in biotechnology, Jacob had gained research experience at UT Health San Antonio where he worked on a protein channel called the mitochondrial calcium uniporter (MCU), which has potential applications in preventing heart damage in heart attacks. The MCU also has possible links to preventing chronic kidney disease. The experience helped Jacob build upon the skills required in a laboratory setting. He also earned acknowledgement in an article published by the National Institutes of Health.
“I was a little unsure of what to do after undergrad, so when I was offered this chance to stay at UTSA with the VIP program, I was very excited to take it,” Jacob said. “The M.S. degree program has opened doors to classes and opportunities like my internship at bioAffinity Technologies that have shaped my interest in science.”
Jacob joins the nearly 1,000 UTSA students who graduated with their master’s degrees earlier this month. Jacob is also representative of UTSA’s commitment to experiential learning programs, like internships, to ensure that students gain the hard and soft skills in demand by employers.
“Reggie has excelled during his time in the M.S. Biotechnology program,” Sponsel said. “I am particularly grateful to scientists in the biotechnology industry, like Dr. Elzi, who provide valuable mentorship for our students before they enter the job market.”
Jacob is excited to take what he has learned at UTSA and through his internship and apply this knowledge toward real-world problems that will make a lasting difference in people’s lives.
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