Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Jervaughn Hunter: Sloan Scholar

Jervaughn Hunter. Photo by David Baillot

From Port Gibson, Mississippi to the bioengineering lab of Karen Christman at UC San Diego, Jervaughn Hunter said growing up he had no clue he’d one day be in graduate school. Now that he is, he makes it a priority to share the knowledge he’s gained along the way with other young students.

 “I’ll do anything to pay it forward, because I didn’t know I’d ever be in grad school,” said Hunter. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Not only did it happen, but it also happened at one of the top bioengineering doctoral programs in the nation, and with Hunter as a Sloan Scholar, no less. Sloan Scholars receive a four-year fellowship worth $40,000, meant to stimulate fundamental research by early-career scientists of outstanding promise.

Hunter graduated from the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) with a degree in biomedical engineering, and spent the following year as a post-baccalaureate researcher at UAB working on the use of stem cells to regenerate affected areas of the heart after a heart attack.

He plans to continue to focus on the heart during his time as a Ph.D. researcher, but instead of stem cells, will apply a therapy from Christman’s lab—an injectable hydrogel designed to repair damaged cardiac tissue after a heart attack.

Hunter said the collaborative and welcoming nature of Christman’s lab drew him to UC San Diego and the Jacobs School of Engineering, as did her entrepreneurial spirit. Christman co-founded Ventrix Inc., a San Diego-based startup that uses the hydrogels developed in her lab to repair heart tissue and increase cardiac muscle.

“I want to work on the translational side of medicine, because basic science is fun, but I want to have a treatment out there that I helped make and can see it be used to treat people,” Hunter said. “That was another thing that drew me to Dr. Christman’s lab was the company she started with her material. I want to be able to see treatments we make actually be able to help people.”

Hunter doesn’t leave “helping people” to treatments he develops in lab alone. In the few weeks that he’s been on campus, he’s already gotten involved with the Bioengineering Graduate Society; volunteered to serve as the graduate student liaison for the UC San Diego chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers; and plans to get involved with TRIO Student Support Services as a mentor—Hunter consistently served as a TRIO mentor throughout his undergraduate career, taking upwards of 20 students under his wing overall. 

Ultimately, Hunter plans to share his experience at UC San Diego with youth and young adults in his hometown in an effort to bring awareness to opportunities available through higher education. He wants to help Port Gibson achieve sustainable economic, social, and political growth through youth mentorship, wellness initiatives, and educational access. By paying it forward, he hopes to inspire future generations to learn how to work within the system to find the resources they need to achieve their dreams.

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