If someone had told young Rose Summers that one day, she would be a prestigious Marshall Scholar, working toward a PhD in stem cell biology and medicine at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, she might not have believed it.
Growing up near the tiny town of Ward nestled in the wilderness above Boulder, Rose fell in love with nature and science at an early age—but her childhood was tumultuous. Her biological father was removed from her life by the court system, and her stepfather struggled with alcoholism and mental health issues before leaving her and her mother when Rose was 12.
“There were so many other things to worry about while I was growing up that there wasn’t much of an expectation when it came to education,” says Rose, who enjoyed learning but struggled to focus in the classroom.
When her mother started experiencing serious health problems, Rose also dealt with poverty. She eventually stopped going to school altogether and was isolated at home for several years.
A Hopeful Start at FRCC
In 2019, Rose started taking classes at Front Range Community College after hearing positive things about the instructors and the quality education from a neighbor. Without a typical educational background or a high school diploma, she was scared about failing.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started at FRCC and was worried that I wouldn’t be smart enough to pass my classes,” she says.
However, the encouragement she received right away built her confidence. “During my first semester, my instructor Michael Roche met me with to discuss my career plans and told me that he thought I could have a bright future in a biology-related field,” Rose says.
“It meant a lot to me to hear that. Most of my FRCC instructors seemed genuinely invested in my success and the success of my classmates.”
Taking the Next Step Into Neuroscience Research
In 2021, Rose graduated from FRCC with an Associate of Science degree, earning a 4.0 GPA—something that gave her great pride, given the many obstacles she had overcome to make it happen. She transferred to the University of Colorado Boulder to begin a Bachelor of Arts in integrative physiology.
At CU, she became a research assistant in the behavioral neuroendocrinology lab, studying the use of Mycobacterium vaccae for the prevention of stress-related chronic inflammation in shift workers. From there, the opportunities continued to come her way.
In 2022, Rose was awarded the national Goldwater Scholarship for students doing research in math, science and engineering. She was accepted into the Harvard-Amgen Scholars Program, spending 10 weeks that summer doing biomedical research on the biology behind human neurodegenerative and developmental diseases.
She worked as an undergraduate researcher in the Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus. And as she wound down the year, Rose received the prestigious Marshall Scholarship, which enabled her to study at the graduate level at a UK institution.
Collaborative Research with the National Institutes of Health and Cambridge University
At CU’s Alzheimer’s and Cognition Center, Rose generated cerebral organoids, which are three-dimensional structures made of the same cells found in parts of the human brain. That led her to become familiar with the work of researchers at Cambridge University. As a Marshall Scholar, she applied to Cambridge and was accepted, starting in fall 2023.
Rose’s goal as a PhD student is to identify new therapeutic targets and drugs for Multiple Sclerosis patients. She was accepted into the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, which means she partners with two investigators. Rose is collaborating with a neurologist at the NIH National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a pediatrician/developmental neuroscientist/Cambridge professor at the Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.
An Appreciation for the Humanity Behind Research
Now just a few months into her doctoral program, Rose is excited to continue her studies and make a positive difference in the world. “It feels really good to have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the world around me,” she says.
Her long-term goal is to become a physician-scientist who helps people with neurological disorders improve their quality and length of life. “Through my research experiences, I’ve gained an appreciation for how altruistic research can be,” she says. “In my labs, we’ve all shared a common desire for wanting to help people who are suffering from medical issues.”
Believing in Herself
Self-doubt might have been a theme in Rose’s life when she was first starting out in college at Front Range, but today, the theme is gratitude.
“Although my transition to college was challenging, that helped me appreciate the value of my education,” Rose says. “I’ve been incredibly lucky to receive the scholarships that I have, and without them, I could never have come this far.”
“The best advice I have for other students is to apply for all the scholarships you qualify for, even if they seem intimidating or you don’t have a lot of self-confidence. Even if you don’t have the perfect GPA or experience, your unique personality and story can make you a competitive applicant.”