February 16, 2018 | By Jake Weber
Zerick Dill, '20, is Albion's first recipient of a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) Fellowship. The award provides Dill with a 10-week internship this summer at one of the country's top research institutions, along with a stipend, housing and travel expenses.
"I was really surprised, because I didn't think I'd get it," Dill says of the award.
Dill admits he started at Albion with little idea of what he might do with his education, but he found himself quickly bitten by the research bug thanks to Albion chemistry professor Craig Streu, '04. Dill now thinks he would like an eventual career developing drugs to treat diseases or conditions that are currently untreatable.
For Dill, it makes sense that being "the first" might be central to his career, as it seems to be a theme in his life. "I'm the first at Albion to receive this opportunity as well as a first-generation college student," he says.
The EXROP fellowship gives Dill a great advantage in reaching that goal, as it will boost his attractiveness to graduate programs. The irony, says Dill, is that he is sure his big-institution award was influenced by his small-college experience.
"I'm from Columbus and I really wanted to go to Ohio State," he says. "I went on a tour and saw a thousand students in a chemistry class and knew that wasn't for me. I've done so much here at Albion, because I wasn't in that crowd."
"Zerick came to my attention as not only an excellent student, but as an exceptionally curious one," says Albion biology professor Ken Saville, who along with more than 100 Albion students has contributed to two HHMI-funded research projects. To date, Saville and 90 Albion students have been credited as co-authors on two peer-reviewed articles as part of the Genomics Education Project. HHMI's EXROP program relies exclusively on these faculty research partners to identify fellowship candidates, and Saville knew Dill was perfect for the program.
“Zerick is famous for visiting professors in their offices,” Saville said. "It was through informal office conversations that I learned of Zerick’s background and realized he was a perfect candidate for this prestigious program."
Raised by his grandparents, Dill adds, "My grandparents love that I'm encouraging my siblings to go to college." He says it's a responsibility that makes his award even more, well, rewarding.
"It feels really good to be an inspiration to motivate them to do the same."