Maria Santisteban Wins Undergraduate Research Mentor Award

Dr. Maria Santisteban (left) and Chancellor Robin Cummings
Dr. Maria Santisteban (left) and Chancellor Robin Cummings

Dr. Maria Santisteban has spearheaded undergraduate research inside and outside the college classroom ever since joining the Biology faculty in 2007.  Santisteban is one of two winners of the 2022 Undergraduate Research Mentor award, which “recognizes individuals who make significant contributions to forwarding undergraduate research, creative scholarship, and entrepreneurial scholarship.” The award, which was bestowed by the Pembroke Undergraduate Research and Creativity (PURC) Council, was formally announced during the Sixteenth Annual UNC PURC Symposium last April. Santisteban promotes and fosters undergraduate research by way of educational programs, science initiatives, and personal mentorship. 

As faculty director of the NSF-funded UNCP COMPASS (Creating Opportunities for Students in Science) Program, she recruits COMPASS students and their mentors, organizes and leads workshops, and escorts students to off-campus venues, including conferences, where they engage in and learn about scientific research. Aimed at underrepresented students, COMPASS supports academic success, and it empowers students to enter graduate and professional programs in STEM disciplines.

Dr. Maria Santisteban receives the 2022 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award
Dr. Maria Santisteban receives the 2022 Undergraduate Research Mentor Award at the 16th annual PURC symposium

Santisteban is co-principal investigator (co-PI) on a $2.8-million NIH grant that facilitates adoption of cutting-edge educational modules in molecular biotechnology for the college laboratory, and she has served as co-PI on the UNC System’s Undergraduate Research Award Program, which fosters a learning community through research experiences.  She also steers students into scientific research by way of the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP), a nation-wide program that engages students in faculty-mentored research in the college classroom. Likewise, she integrates cutting-edge technologies (including revolutionary CRISPR gene technology) and course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) into her own courses. For several years, she has served as District Director (Region IV) of the North Carolina Student Academy of Science, and she has served as a reviewer on NSF panels and has judged student presentations at numerous regional and national conferences.

Santisteban’s own research, focusing on the role of the histone H2A.Z variant in regulating gene expression, attracts bright, highly motivated students. She has mentored no fewer than 18 undergraduate researchers at UNCP, many of whom have entered graduate programs after completing their baccalaureate degrees. She guides her mentees in asking relevant questions, sharpening their laboratory skills, generating data, and in “publishing” their research through presentations at local (including PURC and RISE symposia), regional, and national conferences. Her research students have an astonishing combined total of 36 conference presentations! 

Congratulations to Dr. Maria Santisteban on winning the 2022 Undergraduate Research Mentor award!
Dr. Maria Santisteban teaches Microbiology, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, and Genomics in the UNCP Department of Biology. A native of Spain, she completed a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of the Basque Country. She earned a DEA (Diplome d’Études Approfondies, equivalent of a master’s degree) and a PhD in Cellular Biology at the Université Joseph Fourier in France. Shortly before joining the Biology faculty at UNCP, she pursued postdoctoral studies in the Mitchell Smith laboratory in the Microbiology Department at the University of Virginia, where she was appointed Assistant Professor of Research.