Evan Dray is a junior in LAS pursuing majors in Chemistry and Molecular & Cellular Biology. Originally from East Peoria, IL, Dray intends to pursue a M.D./Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology to support his career in translational oncology/pharmacology research. Dray was recently awarded the prestigious Goldwater scholarship
The College of LAS had the chance to catch up with him to learn more about the scholarship and his journey at U of I.
Question: Congratulations on being honored with a Goldwater scholarship! What does being selected for such a prestigious honor mean to you?
Thank you, I am grateful to have been selected. Being chosen for this award is an honor, and a true testament to my mentors and colleagues that have supported me the past several years. Goldwater scholars are some of the brightest minds in their fields and I am excited for the opportunity to learn and collaborate with them.
Q: Undergraduate research has been a big part of your journey at Illinois. How did you get involved initially? Tell us about a highlight of your research experience at U of I.
I initially became involved with undergraduate research my freshman year by knocking on professors’ doors and expressing my interest in working with them. I built a network that introduced me to Dr. McKim, my current research mentor. The highlight of my research career thus far was the day my manuscript was published in Molecular Immunology. I spent two years and countless hours designing the experiments, collecting data, and writing the manuscript. It was a rewarding feeling to finally finish up the editorial process and see my work in print.
Q: What are your career goals and aspirations? How have your experiences at the University of Illinois helped you on that journey?
My aim is to reduce the burden of human disease. I get the most excited when the fields of clinical medicine and scientific research synergize, facilitating the application of research discoveries toward the improvement of treatments and development of cures for patients. My specific research interests are in pediatric immuno-oncology and molecular pharmacology, the development of therapeutics to target the patient’s own immune system to treat disease. My experiences here at the University of Illinois have opened my eyes to the field of research, which has been instrumental in my choice of profession. Had I not been exposed to research as a freshman, I would not be sitting here today saying I want to become a scientist.
Q: You’ve also been involved in helping teach and mentor underclassmen in Chemistry and Biology. What has that experience been like?
Teaching and mentoring have been some of the highlights of my time here at Illinois. It’s been great to grow and mature with so many bright minds. I had a mentor a few years ago tell me the only thing mentors ask in return for their advice is that they pass it on to others. It’s important all of us reach back and pull others up. We all benefit from it.
Q: What support have you received from the LAS community (professors, graduate students, advisors, etc.) as you’ve pursued your academic and professional goals?
I have received tremendous support from both the LAS and U of I campus communities. Every professor, advisor, or graduate student I have ever worked with here at Illinois have never hesitated to stop and explain something to me if I had a question or was confused.
Q: After spending several years on campus now, what advice would you give to seniors in high school that are considering the University of Illinois?
The University of Illinois is an exceptional place to pursue your education, especially given the vast number of resources available to us as students. Illinois is a large campus, but there are plentiful opportunities to stand out and to have one-on-one learning experiences with your educators.