Friday, January 24

Student awarded Marshall Scholarship


After three years of juggling a full class load and a part-time
research job, Tom Clarke’s hard work will pay off when he
heads to Oxford University on the prestigious Marshall Scholarship
next fall.

Awarded to about 40 American students each year, the Marshall
Scholarship covers all costs of earning a two-year degree at a
British university. Students are awarded the scholarship based on
several factors, including their scholarly aptitude and their
chosen course of study, according to the Marshall Scholarship Web
site.

Clarke, a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology
student, does research with Rachelle Crosbie, an assistant
professor in the department of physiological sciences at UCLA.
Crosbie’s team discovered a protein called sarcospan, which
may play a part in treating the neuromuscular disease muscular
dystrophy. Crosbie’s discovery of sarcospan is related to
research done by Kay Davies, a professor at Oxford University,
which prompted Clarke to apply to work there with her.

“One of the leading experts in my field of research is at
Oxford, which is what set me apart” from other scholarship
applicants, Clarke said.

Clarke is the first student from UCLA to receive the Marshall
Scholarship in five years, according to the scholarship Web
site.

The Marshall Scholarship is “one of the most prestigious
scholarships out there,” said Rebecca Blustein, a student
affairs officer at the Scholarship Resource Center.

Crosbie said none of her former students have won this
scholarship.

“This happens once in a career; I am blessed with a
student like that,” she said.

Clarke said he was intrigued by the opportunity to study in a
foreign country because he has yet to set foot outside the United
States.

“I plan to travel through Europe on my breaks,” he
said. “I hope to experience some sort of personal growth and
maturity.”

Clarke said that along with experiencing a new country, his
focus on research at Oxford will help him to become a better
scientist.

“I will spend two full years dedicated to my research
instead of trying to be a student as well as conduct
research,” he said.

Crosbie said Clarke’s award of the scholarship came as no
surprise to her.

“He is an amazing student. He is bright, enthusiastic and
a pure delight to work with,” she said.

Clarke has made significant contributions to Crosbie’s lab
at UCLA, notably his experiments involving ciliary diseases,
Crosbie said.

Ciliary disease is caused by a defect in the movement of
hairlike structures called cilia, which are found in many places in
the body.

The main function of cilia in the throat is to act like small
brooms to clear mucus, which traps germs. A person with immobile
cilia experiences recurring respiratory infections because mucus
can not be properly cleared, Crosbie said.

Clarke worked with Janine Bekker, a graduate student in
Crosbie’s research group, to demonstrate that a protein
called Gas11 controls cilia functions. Importantly, patients with
recurring respiratory illness have defects in Gas11.

Though he is now dedicated to research, Clarke said he was not
always sure he wanted to get involved with research.

Research is “not something I came in here thinking I
definitely wanted to, but it did influence my decision to come to
UCLA because there are so many opportunities here,” he
said.

Coming from Arizona, he knew nobody when he started at UCLA and
decided to join a fraternity to meet people. But after a few weeks,
he realized that Greek life was not for him.

“That was a turning point,” Clarke said. “If I
went down that road and had given in to stuff they wanted me to do,
I can’t imagine I would be the position I’m in
now.”

“I would have had more fun, but I wouldn’t have had
these opportunities,” he said.

At the end of his first year, Clarke knew he was interested in
the sciences and e-mailed about 50 professors looking to help with
research.

He said Crosbie was the only professor who responded.

“Maybe (the low response rate) was because I was a first
year,” he said, “but there can always be improved
access for undergraduates to get involved with research.”

Crosbie said she receives several e-mails every day from
undergraduates looking to perform research, but Clarke’s
stood out because it was well thought out and very well
written.

“He wrote a very humble and respectful … e-mail. It
looked like he took the time to write an e-mail specifically about
our research program,” she said.

Crosbie can attest to Clarke’s dedication to
education.

“We tease him in the lab because he’s 21 going on
40; he’s very serious and very goal-oriented,” she
said.

Clarke is in the middle of applying to medical school. He said
he planned on going directly to medical school after graduation
from UCLA, but is happy to put it off to go to Oxford.

“To take some time off is going to be nice,” he
said.

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