A Passion for Mentoring

Kayla Henderson
Kayla Henderson

For senior Kayla Henderson, receiving a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship not only gives her an opportunity to pursue her PhD in Biomedical Engineering, but also allows her to continue another of her passions: mentoring women interested in science fields.

“There’re a few more women (working in science fields) than there used to be, but not many African American women,” Henderson says. “I, hopefully, can be an example for other young women in my position.”

Henderson will use the fellowship to attend the University of Texas, where she will study biomedical engineering and conduct cardiovascular tissue engineering research.

At Mizzou, she has served as a research assistant in Bioengineering Professor James Lee’s lab and was involved in independent projects looking at different cellular mechanisms that are affected in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

“I want to go into the industry and work with biomedical devices,” she says. “I’m really interested in translating biomedical devices for third-world countries.”

Henderson is an EXPRESS Fellow serving as a mentor for EXPRESS freshman and sophomore apprentices, who intend to major in a life science discipline or seek a career in a life science field. The program is for first-generation college students and students from ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the sciences. EXPRESS Fellows connect apprentices to academic resources on campus, help students find lab mentors and facilitate workshops on basic lab skills.

“It’s really just peer outreach or peer mentoring, in whatever capacity the apprentices need,” she says.

This program has allowed Henderson to do an independent project, present her research nationally, attend conferences and speak on EXPRESS panels.

“I’d like to continue that in graduate school and after graduate school, whether that’s a mentorship program or just staying connected to young women in the community,” she says.

Henderson was one of five current University of Missouri students to earn a 2015 NSF GRF, which recognizes outstanding students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics who are pursing research-based graduate and doctoral degrees.

Channell Washington, Josh Russell, Tom Laughlin and Betsabe Castro Escobar joined Henderson as selections for the fellowship. In addition, former MU students Kirsten Brenner, James Winkelman, Matt Vollmer, Brett Spatola, Katie Seitz and Elizabeth Jane Hawkey were named GFR recipients.

MU senior Andrew Allee, and alumni Jamin Shih, Elizabeth Ostrander and Heather Habecker earned Honorable Mention recognition from the NSF.