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Two chemistry students win Class of 1913 University Award

Thursday, May 07, 2015

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas seniors Marcus Florez and Ashley Farris are brilliant examples of what it means to make discoveries that change the world, both personally and academically. This year’s Class of 1913 University Award honorees are two exceptional individuals who have used their time at the University of Kansas to benefit the lives of others through research.

Four years of achievements on campus didn’t lessen the shock when each learned they had won the prestigious award, designated for two outstanding male and female seniors. Farris was in a morning session of one of her favorite courses, Linguistics 111, after a late night of studying.

“As soon as they walked into the room, I knew I had won an award, because I am the only senior in the class, so I tried to look as awake as I could on two hours of sleep,” Farris said.

Florez was similarly surprised when Tammara Durham, vice provost for Student Affairs, walked into his lab period. “I was really shocked to receive the award. I remember applying, but I did not think that I would have received the award during my lab period,” Florez said. “It took me a while to stop shaking after they had left.”

As a 14-year-old, Florez hit rock bottom. His escalating issues at school eventually led to a decision to drop out and begin working for his family’s business.

“I became a disruption to my school and community,” Florez said. “I became so defiant that I was eventually expelled from school. I was later enrolled into an alternative school where I received little support to further my education.”

Florez rallied and enrolled in high school. He graduated valedictorian and has maintained an outstanding academic record at KU. Once rejected by his hometown schools, he has been accepted for internships at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Harvard Medical School for his research on Alzheimer’s disease.

“When I reflect on the time I started at KU, I thought I was just going to go through the motions. I figured I would just be another number in a class,” Florez said. “I never imagined the experiences I have been given. Through research, I was able to acquire leadership skills, a strong work ethic, communication skills, and a network of brilliant mentors and peers across the country.”

Florez might have known he wasn’t one to simply go through the motions. He has amassed more than 750 volunteer hours as part of his commitment to help youths in similar situations make their own personal discoveries that can change the world. He continues to volunteer with His Helping Hands in Wichita and spent two semesters with Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence.

“I had a desire to volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club because I once attended a Boys and Girls Club,” Florez said. “So when I heard of an opportunity at a Boys and Girls Club here in Lawrence, I decided to volunteer in hopes of being a good role model and mentor to the young kids. Throughout my experience, I felt that I was able to relate to the kids and influence them in a positive way.”

His GPA, dedication to research and commitment to service, make Florez not only an excellent role model, but also a worthy successor of past Class of 1913 University Award honorees.

Farris came to the University of Kansas ready to blaze trails, and she has forged new paths both through innovative research and study abroad. It took her all of three weeks on campus to begin work in the lab of Michael Detamore, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, and for the past four years she has taken on responsibilities normally reserved for doctoral students. The discoveries she has been a part of have the potential for changing medicine, such as working on the next generation of TMJ devices.

“I have been incredibly lucky to have had access to great mentorship throughout my education,” Farris said. “Dr. Detamore initially sparked my interest in research during one of my campus visits as a high school student, and his lab group has taught me both research and professional skills that have been invaluable."

Farris’ discoveries in the classroom and lab soon turned to personal discoveries through travel. She became the first KU student to participate in a research internship at the state-of-the-art Institute of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine (inSTEM) in Bangalore, India.

“I volunteered to be the ‘pilot student’ for this new program that will continue for future years. I received funding from the University Honors Program and two biology department scholarships,” Farris said. “While in India, I recognized my desire to travel.”

Her unwavering ability in the lab, drive to make a difference in the lives of others, and adventurous spirit make Ashley Farris an outstanding recipient of the Class of 1913 University Award.

Marcus Florez is a senior majoring in chemistry from Bel Aire with a 4.0 GPA. Florez has researched on four university campuses in diverse topics such as the relationship between mitochondria DNA variation and mutations in nuclear DNA genes in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Florez has acted as a peer leader and participant in His Helping Hands in Wichita. He is an active member of the Society for Advancing Chicanos and Native Americans in Science and the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development and a member of the University of Kansas Honors Program. Florez is a Maher Memorial Scholar and Talty Scholarship recipient for exemplary performance by a chemistry major. Florez is mentored by Mkhail Barybin, Vikki Corbin, James Orr, Eli Michaelis, Estela Gavosto and Lynn Villafuerte. Upon graduation, he will participate in a post-baccalaureate program at Harvard University. He is the son of Mark and Charlotte Florez of Bel Aire.

Ashley Farris is a senior majoring in biochemistry from Wichita with a 3.96 GPA. Farris has researched on two campuses in addition to participating in the National Science Foundation research experience for undergraduates at the University of California, San Diego. She has presented research at four symposiums and conferences across the nation. Farris was an Honors Program Seminar Assistant for three years and treasurer for the Biomedical Engineering Society. She received the Ida Hyde Scholarship for Women in Biology and was a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention. Farris is mentored by Michael Detamore, Perry Alexander, Timothy Jackson and Professor Mary Klayder. In July, she will begin a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University. She is the daughter of Lee and Alyson Farris of Wichita.

The Class of 1913 Award is given to a deserving senior man and woman who have demonstrated stellar academic achievement. The award, established by the Class of 1913, states that students “who, by their evidenced intelligence, devotion to their studies and personal character, give promise of such usefulness to society” shall be recipients of the annual gift.