CHC's Mikala Capage wins Goldwater with support from mentors

When junior Mikala Capage opened an email about the Goldwater Scholarship she applied for, she was prepared. And then she was ecstatic. It was the second time she had applied for the Goldwater; the first email resulting in disappointment. Now, after the second email, she can say she is the 2021 Goldwater Scholarship recipient.

Mikala Capage, Goldwater recipient, on the UO campus.

“It feels very satisfying, I think to do all of the work for the application, but also do all of the work for research over the last couple years and classes,” Capage, a biology major, said.  “It definitely is very satisfying, I think to kind of have that recognized at the national level.”

The Goldwater Foundation provides up to a maximum of $7,500 to college sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue research careers in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering. The scholarship is used to help cover the amount equal to the cost of tuition, mandatory fees, books, and room and board.

Along with the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, Capage is also the Vice President for Research and Innovation (VPRI) Undergraduate Fellowship recipient of 2020 and the Knight Campus Undergraduate Scholar of 2021.

Since her first year of high school, Capage has always had a passion for research and biology and her love for research has only continued to grow. She learned about epigenetics during high school from one of her favorite biology professors and knew that she wanted to know more. Her passion for research and epigenetics led her to join Professor David Garcia’s lab her freshman year at the University of Oregon.

Capage has been part of Garcia’s research team since 2019. She explains that at the lab, she researches prion proteins as a potential beneficial epigenetic mechanism that would allow cells to respond to special conditions in their environment. Her research is focused on identifying novel yeast prions, which are prions that have not been characterized before.

“Mikala excels in her studies, but it's her aptitude for research that won her the Goldwater,” Garcia said. “Not only does she work incredibly hard, but she is never afraid to question an idea or approach.”

Melissa Graboyes, one of Capage’s mentors and an Assistant Professor of African & Medical History at the CHC, encouraged her to apply for the award again and helped Capage with the application process.

 “There's a lot of great support in the research side of things and then also within the honors college,” she said of Graboyes. “So that's definitely two sides of how it was possible to apply and win this award. She's a really, really great mentor.”

Capage’s mentors have helped shape her future and has helped her explore what she wants to pursue in the future. She hopes to advise future graduate and undergraduate students by leading a research lab at a R1 research institution and providing the same guidance that her mentors, like Garcia and Graboyes, have done for her.

 “That's definitely the goal to kind of be the advisors that I have now and like be the mentors that I have now,” she added. “That means so much to me.”

After graduating from the UO, Capage intends to apply to PhD programs to research and head towards a dissertation. The Goldwater award is just another step along that path to continue the work of her mentors at UO.



Story by Sammy DiMinno, CHC CommunicationsPhoto by Maddie Knight, CHC Communications