Next Stop: Oxford or Cambridge

Christie Campla’s May graduation will punctuate a remarkable journey from Pell grant recipient to prestigious, postgraduate scholarship.


Christie Campla pictured with her research mentor Meera Nanjundan, assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. Photo: Lauren Schumacher Chambers


By Kevin Burke

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (March 13, 2013) — Christie Campla no longer has time for marching band. Going to class and spending 30 hours or more in the lab each week as a cellular and molecular biology major, with another major in Spanish and a minor in chemistry, can have that effect.


Still, the reward for temporarily setting aside her tuba promises to make it all worthwhile.


Just the fourth University of South Florida student to earn a Goldwater Scholarship — the nation’s most prestigious award for undergraduate students in science — she is the first to be named a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Oxford Cambridge Scholar. As such, following her graduation in May, Campla will spend much of the next four years pursuing a fully funded doctoral degree at either Oxford University or Cambridge University in the United Kingdom.


She hopes to extend her undergraduate research with USF Chemical and Biomedical Engineering Professor Piyush Koria in the field of recombinant biomaterials, particularly as they might improve methods for drug preservation and targeted delivery.


“It’s a pretty hot area right now,” says Campla, whose interests also extend to regenerative medicine or the process of replacing or regenerating human cells, tissues or organs in order to establish or restore normal function. This may include the use of stem cells as well as other tissue engineering techniques involving cells cultivated from healthy blood, organs, and muscles.


Fortunately for Campla, her upcoming NIH OxCam Scholarship allows her plenty of freedom to explore the various options.


“Because that’s kind of the way research is; you never know where one avenue may take you,” she said. “You have to be ready to go in a new direction, which is a really nice part about doctoral programs in the UK. They’re very different than here in the United States.


“PhD candidates in England aren’t required to attend classes. Instead, you basically design a research program and are judged on your results,” Campla said. “The big advantage is you have a lot more time and flexibility to respond to something that’s new or unexpected. It’s very exciting.”


That’s a somewhat different feeling than Campla had during the closing stage of the OxCam review process. Despite her Goldwater, USF Holcombe First Generation in College Scholarship, USF Honors College Discovery Research Scholarship, USF Scholastic Achievement Scholarship, USF Undergraduate Award for Scholarly and Creative Excellence, and a summer training fellowship at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, she admits feeling “a bit intimidated” standing in the same room with 60 other OxCam finalists, “mostly Ivy Leaguers,” vying for one of only 20 scholarships awarded nationally this year.


Now, however, she says the only pressure she feels is living up to the high standards exemplified by her mentors, Dr. Koria, and Professor Meera Nanjundan in the Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology, with whom she started her undergraduate research as a freshman and completed her honors thesis on the role of various signaling mediators in cell degradation and motility in ovarian cancer as a junior.


She also wants to remain worthy of the confidence in her expressed by USF and its scholarship benefactors through their financial assistance during her time as a student.


“Having that support really motivated me. Without it, I probably would have started out in community college and had to work while going to school. I might have just been happy to get my degree and be done with it. But because of scholarships, I’ve had the time to pursue my dreams.”


Her goal is to one day lead her own lab and research team, as well as teach at the university level.


And, true to form, she plans to get started right away. Shortly after her walk across the graduation stage on May 3, Campla will be on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Md., for a one-week orientation before traveling to Oxford and Cambridge in June.


Kevin Burke can be reached at 813-974-0192.