This article was originally written by Sarah Keegan and Stephanie Jacques
Kansas State University’s Vaithish Velazhahan, senior in microbiology, medical biochemistry and pre-medicine, Manhattan, is receiving the 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship.
“As Kansas State University’s first Gates Cambridge scholar, Vaithish Velazhahan is an excellent choice,” said university President Richard Myers. “This prestigious scholarship program recognizes students for outstanding academic excellence, leadership potential and a commitment to improving the lives of others, all of which Vaithish has demonstrated exceptionally well.”
Velazhahan is one of 35 U.S. students to receive the 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship, established by Bill and Melinda Gates. The scholarship covers the full cost of studying at Cambridge while pursuing a full-time postgraduate degree. As part of his doctorate, Velazhahan will study with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, or LMB, at Cambridge where he will research the structure of key membrane proteins, called G protein-coupled receptors, that help cells communicate with an organism’s environment.
“More than 40 percent of all commercially available drugs target these proteins, so it is very important to understand their structures to design new drugs to treat a variety of human diseases,” Velazhahan said. “I am very excited to contribute to advances in this rapidly growing field, and I am grateful for this opportunity to work alongside and learn from world-class scientists in the LMB. This experience will help me reach my dream of becoming a physician-scientist as I plan to return to the U.S. for medical school.”
A 2017 Goldwater Scholar and member of the University Honors Program, Velazhahan is working with Kathrin Schrick, associate professor of biology, to research how dietary flavonoids in plants inhibit some human cancers. He also is researching the genetic factors that caused land plant evolution. Velazhahan represented Kansas State University at the 2017 Undergraduate Research Day at the Kansas Capitol and has given four invited oral presentations and 13 poster presentations at national and regional conferences, winning multiple awards.
Velazhahan is the founder and president of WE SAVE, a nonprofit organization in India that promotes preventative health awareness and develops technology to connect doctors with underprivileged patients. He is the vice president for the College of Arts and Sciences Ambassadors and the student representative for Sigma Xi, the scientific research honor society. In addition, he served as vice president for service of Chimes Junior Honorary Society; vice president of Medicine Education and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere, or MEDLIFE, at Kansas State University; ambassador for WellCAT and Lafene Health Center; social chair and selections committee member of Silver Key Sophomore Honorary Society; and ambassador for the University Honors Program. Velazhahan has volunteered for HandsOn Kansas State’s alternative spring break, the American Red Cross and the Flint Hills Breadbasket, and he is nationally certified as an emergency medical technician.
Among Velazhahan’s awards and honors are the university’s Academic Honors Scholarship; National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Mentoring in Ecological Genomics Scholarship; National Institutes of Health Kansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence Scholarship; three Johnson Cancer Center research awards; an Asian and Pacific Islander American/United Health Foundation National Scholarship; Sigma Xi Grants In Aid of Research National Research Grant; two Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry scholarships; Outstanding Student Award from Mortar Board Senior Honorary; Joey Lee Garmon Scholarship for Social Justice; Most Promising Student Award from the Division of Biology; Blue Key Walter Martin Memorial Scholarship for Leadership, Service and Citizenship; Brian Spooner Scholarship; and a Diverse Scholars Initiative Scholarship from the United Health Foundation.
A graduate of Lisieux Matriculation Higher Secondary School in India, Velazhahan is the son of Rethinasamy Velazhahan and Subramanian Kalaivani, India.