genetics story

Two KGI Students Awarded Public Health Genetics and Precision Medicine Fellowships

Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) students Jacob Comeaux and Jennifer Rios are little more than a semester into the brand-new Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling (MSGC) program, yet they’ve already earned fellowships in their chosen field. The two members of the MSGC’s inaugural class of 2020 were selected for the competitive Public Health Genetics and Precision Medicine Fellowship awarded by the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) professional organization.

The fellowship offers students and genetic counseling graduates of the past five years an opportunity to take part in webinars on timely topics in public health genetics and precision medicine; learn from current leaders and patient advocates; expand their professional networks; and develop a scholarly project. The fellowship also enables them to attend the NSGC’s 2019 conference and receive a one-year membership in its public health special interest group after completing their fellowship requirements.

“It’s wonderful for the visibility of our program and that two of our students—not just one—were selected,” says Ashley Mills, who directs and developed the MSGC program at KGI. “They applied during finals, which shows we have dedicated students who are confident about their goals and are putting themselves out there to do this on top of a really heavy workload in our program.”

Comeaux came to KGI’s MSGC program after working in cancer clinical research at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. That experience led him to recognize the role of genetics in disease and sparked his interest in genetic counseling. Comeaux is still employed at Cedars-Sinai, working part-time on the All of Us Research Program, a national public health project involving creation of a database to guide precision medicine.

“I’ve already worked in public health and realize its importance,” says Comeaux, who holds an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“But there’s so much more I need to learn, and the fellowship affords that opportunity. My mission has always been to serve patients and to learn how to be successful in that role.”

Rios is also eager to learn. She sees the fellowship as additional preparation to achieve her goal: to become a genetic counselor who helps members of underserved communities better understand their own genetics and health.

“I jumped at the chance to increase my knowledge,” she says of her decision to apply for the fellowship. “I’ve taken a public health course, but I want more information and more insights into genetic services. I’m still brand new, so there’s a lot for me to take in. It’s important to immerse myself as much as I can and get insights and input from people who have been in genetic counseling for a long time.”

Rios brings professional perspective of her own to the fellowship. After graduating from University of Redlands with a biology degree, she gained shadowing experience in the cancer genomics department at the University of Southern California. She also worked as a lab associate at Quest Diagnostics, finding a mentor in a genetic counselor there.

Now that the fellowship program has begun—the students participated in their first webinar on January 9, and discussions on LinkedIn are also under way—Rios sees an opportunity for the rest of her classmates in the MSGC program to benefit as well.

“As I learn more about genetic public health and precision medicine, I’m going to bring that information back to my cohort and have more meaningful discussions. I’ve already had conversations with other students,” she says.