Mikhova defies the odds

By Michael Linnell
University Communications Director

MINOT, N.D. – Minot State University senior Mariia Mikhova has a knack for defying the odds.

Mikhova spent the summer doing research in the AMGEN Scholars Program at the University of Tokyo, earning one of just 15 spots in a prestigious educational experience that allows undergraduates from around the world to participate in cutting-edge research.

“The application process was a bit challenging, but getting an email saying that I got accepted came to fruition at a moment,” she said. “Many talented and smart students from all around the world applied, I really appreciate that I got accepted. Among the other 14 students in this program, most of them were from Harvard, Cambridge, UCLA, Stanford; I am glad that I had a chance to represent Minot State University at the program. By doing INBRE research for two years at Minot State and having a summer internship at Michigan State University, I felt I was actually ready to do a research even in top-notch university lab settings.”

The AMGEN Scholars Program began in 2006 and is an international program funded by the AMGEN Foundation with direction and technical assistance by Harvard. Over the past 13 years, more than 4,000 students from over 750 universities have become AMGEN Scholars. The AMGEN Foundation has donated $74 million over the past 13 years to ensure students have the opportunity.

The program is broken down into five regions: United States, Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia. Mikhova was accepted into the Asia program as the U.S. program is limited to U.S. citizens only.

“We encourage all of our students to go to a summer research program and we have had quite a few lately excel at them, but most of the programs available are restricted to U.S. citizens,” said Bryan Schmidt, Minot State professor of chemistry. “AMGEN (Asia) is one that allows students from everywhere to participate. It’s a struggle to convince someone to go across the country for a summer internship, let alone to another country where they don’t speak the language. It can be a challenge. There are logistical issues that you wouldn’t even think about. And, if you look to where 95 to 99% of the people accepted are from, Harvard, Stanford, major universities — students at smaller schools don’t even apply.”

Mikhova had very little time to explore Tokyo, spending much of the summer in the lab. Research, however, isn’t work for her at all.

“I really enjoy doing research, it brings joy into my life,” she said. “The AMGEN Scholars Program gave me a chance not just to springboard my research skills, but also meet many wonderful like-minded students. Now, we are applying to graduate schools together and sharing some tips and tricks on successful applications.”

This year’s AMGEN Scholars Program began in June and finished in August with a signature symposium event at the National University of Singapore.

Again, Mikhova moved to the top of the list at the symposium.

“It was an amazing experience, very intense,” she said. “There are very smart people from the industry there and a lot of the top universities. I presented a poster and gave an oral presentation. Giving the presentation wasn’t difficult for me because I created my own research project. I was very comfortable and I was having fun throughout my talk — that’s probably why I won the best oral presentation award. One of the main AMGEN presidents told me he would never forget me because when I gave my presentation, ‘my eyes were sparkling.’”

Her rise to the top of the list at the AMGEN Scholars Program didn’t surprise Schmidt. From his first interaction with Mikhova, he knew she was someone special.

“The way she sees things is not the way most people see things. I noticed that a long time ago,” Schmidt said. “That’s the type of person who is going to do well in biochemistry. It’s an aggressive field and you need confidence. When you come from a smaller university, it can be difficult at times to thrive in that environment, because we can’t show that here. When she came back and we found out how well she adapted to the pressure so quickly, we were very excited.”

Mikhova isn’t your typical college senior either.

She completed nearly half of a six-year education at Odessa National Medial University in her native Ukraine. While she didn’t complete her education, when first arriving at Minot State, she had a baseline most freshmen and even most juniors don’t have.

“She was in the nursing program originally here and took a basic chemistry class from me,” Schmidt said. “I start out with asking students how many have had chemistry before, and some have. How about organic chemistry? Not many, but here is this girl in the front row with her hand up. OK, how about bio chem — and she still has her hand up. Most of the time, I’m thinking, no, no you haven’t. She came after class and said she really did have that in her background.

“Later in the semester, she came to me and asked if she could fill in her time with something in the lab. She hadn’t changed majors yet, but you could see with her she could handle it, so expectations were high from early on. Because of our smaller class size, she stuck out. In a lecture bowl with a 1,000 students, I never would have seen her.”

Mikhova remembers that first encounter with Schmidt as well.

“Thank God for Dr. Schmidt. I came here as a nursing major but didn’t like it at all. I came to his intro to chemistry class and was sitting in the first row. I met with him after class and asked if I could do something in research. That’s how it all started.”

Her path to Minot State was almost as improbable as earning her trip to AMGEN. After deciding to change from medical school, Mikhova wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next. She looked into going to New Zealand, but the costs were too high. A quick Google search led her to Minot State.

“I didn’t set out to study abroad,” she said. “The United States was my choice randomly. I had been on vacation in the United States and enjoyed that so I thought it would be good to try something new. I had traveled to New York and Miami, but never this area. My first day here, I was stuck in a snow storm at the airport, no phone, no transportation, I thought I was going to die here!”

But her drive to succeed outlasted the snow storm.

“I’m motivated to stay for myself. My parents were waiting for me to come back,” she said. “But I’m not going back. Minot has given me a lot of educational opportunities. I tell students, don’t limit yourself, don’t be afraid to try something new. I always knew I wanted to do something more.”

While her medical school days are behind her, she is still motivated by a sense of helping others.

“After many years, I realized that I don’t want to be a physician, because I don’t want to just treat people, I want to treat diseases,” Mikhova said.

Her innate drive will now have another component added as she moves from undergrad to the graduate level — notoriety.

“You are trying to stick out when you are applying to grad school and when they know the name, it’s not just a piece of paper,” Schmidt said. “They now know her name.”

About Minot State University
Minot State University is a public university dedicated to excellence in education, scholarship, and community engagement achieved through rigorous academic experiences, active learning environments, commitment to public service, and a vibrant campus life.

Published: 11/07/19   

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