Graduate Student Receives Prestigious Fellowship for His Accomplishments and Promise

Anthony Williams, a Ph.D. candidate in the Miller School’s Sheila and David Fuente Graduate Program in Cancer Biology, is one of just 12 graduate students across the nation to receive a 2013 United Negro College Fund/Merck Graduate Science Research Dissertation Fellowship.

Awarded in June by the UNCF-Merck Science Initiative, a partnership of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and healthcare leader Merck, the fellowships are designed to help the nation’s “most accomplished and promising” African-American biomedical sciences or engineering students pursue doctoral degrees. The $53,000 fellowship will help Williams cover his living expenses and research materials while he completes his dissertation, “Morphologic, Molecular, and Functional Characterization of Circulating Tumor Cells.”

Richard J. Cote, M.D., Professor and Joseph R. Coulter Jr. Chair of Pathology, and Director of the Dr. John T. Macdonald Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami (BioNIUM), said Williams richly deserves the honor. “Anthony has always impressed me with his keen intelligence, as well as his compassion, creativity and persistence,” Cote said. “He is one of the more outstanding graduate students I have had the pleasure to work with, not only because of his academic excellence, but because of the strong character and qualities he brings to all aspects of his work and his life.”

Under Cote’s mentorship and that of Ram Datar, Ph.D., associate professor of pathology, Williams is developing novel technologies for capturing, quantifying, and characterizing circulating tumor cells in the blood of cancer patients. In collaboration with colleagues at Georgetown University Medical Center, he already has demonstrated early success in establishing these cells in culture, which Cote said will produce “a paradigm shift of enormous impact” when accomplished.

Williams said he is as honored to be recognized by Merck and United Negro College Fund as he is to be sponsored by the University.

“Merck is one of the most innovative pharmaceutical companies in the world, and the UNCF’s impact on empowering young, black Americans through education is immeasurable,” he said. “As wonderful as those two organizations are, this award also reflects the environment created by the University of Miami’s leadership, faculty and staff, who are dedicated to the development and mentorship of its young trainees. This is an achievement that should be celebrated by us all.”

Now in its 20th year, the UNCF-Merck Science Initiative is dedicated to increasing the number of African-American undergraduates studying in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – disciplines and has supported 626 students since its inception. Williams is a member of the 18th Class of Merck Fellows, which also includes 15 undergraduates and 10 post-doctoral associates who received between $25,000 and $92,000 in scholarships and fellowships.

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