This story is featured in the Spring 2019 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how an HPU alumnus with impressive accolades is furthering his education at Yale.
Gavin Coombs, ’14, was also accepted to MIT, Duke, UC Berkeley and UNC Chapel Hill
On a hot July day, High Point University students dedicating their summer to undergraduate research break away from their work to meet and learn from HPU graduate Gavin Coombs.
Coombs is a Ph.D. candidate in Yale University’s Department of Chemistry. He has garnered a list of awards, landed research opportunities at Johns Hopkins University, and as an African- American male who has built a stellar career in the sciences, has overcome a lack of diversity in the field. As a 2014 biochemistry graduate, he knows what a rigorous path science majors are traveling.
He came home to HPU to tell students this: You can do it.
Commitment to Student Success
When Coombs was a high school student in Baltimore, Maryland, he attended a college fair where he heard others saying great things about HPU. He drove south to visit HPU’s science facilities, and his experience matched the recommendations he’d received.
“There was a palpable dedication to pedagogy from the professors here,” says Coombs. “That sealed the deal for me.”
Dr. Heather Miller, assistant professor of biochemistry, became Coombs’ advocate inside and outside of the classroom. She guided him through research projects in the laboratory and encouraged him to pursue research opportunities. Coombs built skills and confidence that helped him secure two summer research experiences for undergraduates, commonly called REUs, at Johns Hopkins University.
His experience spanned beyond the lab, too. Through support from his professors and a travel grant from the Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Works, Coombs presented his research to audiences at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Nashville, Tennessee. He also presented at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium at Duke University.
“Gavin always walked the halls as if he were a second or third year graduate student,” says Miller. “That’s how he carried himself, how he spoke about science and how he interacted with his professors.”
Ivy League Acceptance
After graduating from HPU, Coombs was a prime candidate for an impressive graduate school. He returned home to Baltimore and, thanks to the relationships he had built at Johns Hopkins through his summer REUs, landed a postbaccalaureate position there.
Meanwhile, his HPU experiences motivated him to apply to some of the nation’s top research universities. He knew that being part of a supportive research team was where he wanted to spend his career. In 2015, he was accepted into Yale.
“The importance of strong mentors can’t be understated,” said Coombs. “That is the biggest theme that characterized my time at HPU and informed my decision to go to Yale and further work with excellent mentors.”
Coombs has achieved many awards along the way and now shares his story with HPU students to help them achieve success as well.
“Gavin is a great resource for our students,” says Miller. “In addition to his work as a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, he was also accepted into MIT, Duke, UC Berkeley and UNC Chapel Hill.”