Organic Chemistry Senior Tapped for Prestigious NSF Graduate Fellowship

Margaret McKinney/Highlands University Highlands organic chemistry senior Melecio Perea, left, met with organic chemistry professor Brooks Maki and Highlands President Sam Minner April 5 to talk about Perea’s National Science Foundation fellowship and research interests.

Margaret McKinney/Highlands University
Highlands organic chemistry senior Melecio Perea, left, met with organic chemistry professor Brooks Maki and Highlands President Sam Minner April 5 to talk about Perea’s National Science Foundation fellowship and research interests.

Las Vegas, N.M. – An organic chemistry senior at Highlands University was tapped from among 17,000 applicants for a prestigious National Science Foundation graduate fellowship.

Melecio Perea, who also has his pick of seven top Ph.D. programs, was awarded a three-year NSF fellowship of $34,000 a year.

Perea, a 22-year-old Las Vegas, New Mexico, native, said the magnitude of the award is still sinking in.

“It’s hard to find the words to convey how thrilled I am about this NSF fellowship, and how honored I feel,” Perea said. “It makes me know that I made the right decision to come to Highlands because of the support, encouragement and opportunities I’ve had here, especially with Dr. Brooks Maki in his Organic Chemistry Lab.”

Highlands President Sam Minner met with Perea and Maki April 5, telling Perea he is an outstanding representative of Highlands.

“Melecio is a great HU story of a young man from West Las Vegas High School who came to Highlands, studied hard, received good mentoring from the faculty and is going on to a top school to earn a Ph.D.,” Minner said. “Highlands changes lives, and Melecio is one extraordinary example of this.”

Maki said that Perea was among only 2,000 graduate and undergraduate students nationwide to earn the NSF graduate fellowship.

“This prestigious fellowship is an endorsement by the NSF that Mel is someone who will contribute to the organic chemistry field and science in general,” Maki said. “Mel has a remarkable hunger for knowledge. As a researcher, he stands out for his intellectual curiosity and strong drive to extract the underlying scientific purpose of the research.”

Maki said the entire Department of Chemistry is incredibly proud of what Perea has accomplished.

Perea has earned a 4.0 GPA and will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree. He weighing offers from Ph.D. programs including Yale, UC-Berkeley, UT-Austin, UCLA, Northwestern University, Colorado State University and Indiana University.

Most science programs bypass a master’s degree in favor of a doctoral course of study.

“I’m very close to deciding which program is the best fit, “ Perea said “I’m most interested in researching the synthesis of complex molecules that exhibit biological activity in the human body. For instance, molecules that could potentially have therapeutic properties for treating certain conditions and diseases like cancer.”

Perea honed his research skills at two highly competitive chemistry research internships including one as an Amgen Scholar in summer 2015 at Berkeley, and one at the University of Pennsylvania in summer 2014.

Maki said doctoral programs take hard work, intelligence and maturity.

“Mel has all these qualities in spades,” Maki said.

The 2012 valedictorian from West Las Vegas High School has earned dean’s list honors every semester of attendance at Highlands. He was named Outstanding Organic Chemistry Student in 2014 and the Dr. Robert Amai Award for Graduating Senior in 2016.

Perea was also named Supplemental Instruction Leader of the Year in 2014 for ARMAS, the university’s award-winning Achieving in Research Math and Science Program. In 2014, ARMAS awarded Perea a scholarship for academic excellence funded by the NSF.

“I’m truly grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had at Highlands, and look forward to this new chapter of my life,” Perea said.