Thursday, May 23, 2024

Top Scholar grad Marissa Coppin uses her passion for research to fight diseases like epilepsy

Top Scholar grad Marissa Coppin uses her passion for research to fight diseases like epilepsy

MAY 9, 2024 — It didn’t take long for San Antonio native Marissa Coppin to find herself in a laboratory, wearing a white coat and quickly falling in love with research.

It all started when she was a sophomore in high school, where she worked in a lab at UT Health San Antonio as part of a Northside Independent School District (NISD) research program.

From that moment on, she was eager for more.

“Ever since my time with UT Health, I knew that I wanted research to be a part of my future career,” she said.

Coppin will cross the stage in May with her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a minor in business administration.

“Neuroscience is such a fascinating field with endless unanswered questions, and the field needs more inquisitive students to answer the meanings of life in the brain.”

Commencement is one of many milestones in Coppin’s academic journey.

She was recently selected to receive a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program award for a research proposal she submitted on the electrical properties of newborn neurons. This award will provide funding for three years of Coppin’s graduate education, which will begin this fall at the University of Pennsylvania. There, she will pursue a doctoral degree in neuroscience.

Coppin is a first-generation college student who started at UTSA as a freshman in 2020. The university had always been on this San Antonio resident’s radar. When Coppin was selected for the UTSA Top Scholar program, she knew it was the right choice.

Hosted by the Honors College, the Top Scholar program is offered to the most talented students in Texas. It provides unique and personalized experiences aimed at empowering their professional growth, fueling a passion for lifelong learning and inspiring their commitment to a stronger community.  Key to the comradery: Students live together in Guadalupe Hall’s Honors Residential College. Each student also receives financial aid: a four-year scholarship covering 100% of their tuition, fees and living expenses.

“Top Scholar has provided me with a platform to enrich myself in experiences on campus and off campus, while allowing me to make long-lasting professional and personal relationships with peers and faculty,” Coppin said.

The funding and support Coppin received from the program provided her with networking and experiential learning opportunities and allowed her to attend conferences and take graduate school tours. The UTSA undergraduate was also involved with the Top Scholars Student Organization, where she served as a peer care lead this year. The role gave Coppin the opportunity to organize mental health initiatives and socials, such as the Mental Health First Aid Training, to help other scholars unwind and de-stress.

“Through a close-knit community within the Honors College, I was able to explore all that UTSA has to offer in the areas of research and student involvement, and it has made me proud to call this campus my home,” Coppin said. “UTSA has a welcoming culture that draws you in. I like how the campus and classes are centralized, which makes it very easy to go from place to place, especially for first-year students.”

Coppin initially majored in biology. That was before she spent time working in the UTSA Hsieh Lab under Jenny Hsieh, the Semmes Foundation Distinguished Chair in Cell Biology, director of the UTSA Brain Health Consortium and professor and chair of the university’s Department of Neuroscience, Developmental and Regenerative Biology.

Once Coppin had a chance to explore research in the Hsieh Lab, she decided to major in neuroscience. She added a minor in business to gain a better understanding of science corporations and how their organizations are managed.

Last year, Coppin was selected as a Barry Goldwater Scholar, one of the most prestigious national scholarship awards for undergraduate students excelling in research in the natural sciences, engineering and mathematics who plan to pursue careers in research. Coppin has also received awards for her research from the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans in Science and the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists.

As an undergraduate, she has contributed to publications such as the Frontiers of Neuroscience, where she published findings that will aid in the development of more effective drugs to treat epilepsy.

Additionally, Coppin is a part of ESTEEMED, a National Institutes of Health program that helps first- and second-year student trainees obtain a PhD in the sciences. This program prepared Coppin to pursue research opportunities early in her academic career while helping her develop the confidence she needed to present her work and play a more independent role in the laboratory. The ESTEEMED program also connected Coppin with Hsieh’s neurobiology lab, where she’s been a researcher throughout almost her entire time as an undergraduate.

Coppin has also been able to combine her knowledge of neuroscience with her passion for mental health advocacy at the San Antonio Clubhouse, a peer-led mental health support nonprofit in the community. As part of the clubhouse’s Millennium Fellowship, she conducted health and wellness workshops with clubhouse members and taught them the link between nutrition and brain health while also incorporating aspects of neuroscience.

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After graduation, Coppin hopes to use her research and business education to start a career in neuroscience or in a government organization dedicated to this industry.

“Neuroscience is such a fascinating field with endless unanswered questions, and the field needs more inquisitive students to answer the meanings of life in the brain,” she said. “Although it’s a challenging program, with the right work ethic and mindset, success will follow.”

Ryan Schoensee

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University of Texas at San Antonio receives ‘transformational’ $40M gift

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