Jonny Leano

Jonny Leano

When UNC graduate student Jonny Leano was growing up in Maui, Hawaii, he didn’t have many opportunities to learn about research or science as a career.

Years later, though, Leano shows a “fearless approach to science,” according to Leano’s mentor, Kevin Slep, an assistant professor in the biology department.

“He gets very enthusiastic about his project and often I see him testing new hypotheses he develops, simply driven by enthusiasm for his project,” Slep says.

Leano is pursing a doctoral degree through the biochemistry and biophysics department. He made the leap into science when a high school teacher in Hawaii suggested he participate in the University of Washington’s GenOM Project, an outreach program that aims to get underrepresented minority students interested in genomics and life sciences research. Leano spent the summer between his junior and senior year in high school in the program and then attended the University of Washington as an undergraduate, working in the same lab he did as a high school student.

“I really learned a lot about what it means to be a scientist, how to problem solve. That made the transition to graduate school easier for me,” Leano says. In 2011, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation grant to support his research at UNC.

Leano also has a passion for teaching and has mentored two undergraduates in his lab. He said the patient and understanding approach of the first person who supervised him as a high school student at the University of Washington stuck with him. Working with undergraduate students, he tries to link what they are learning in their classes to their work in the lab.

“It really helps them make a connection and understand everything better,” Leano says.

Leano also participates in NC DNA Day, a program that matches high schools across the state with a DNA Day Ambassador, who teaches lessons about DNA and molecular biology and talks about his or her career as a scientist. For Leano, it’s part of giving back.

“These efforts may inspire students to join research programs and pursue a scientific career just as those efforts did for me,” Leano says.

Read more about Leano and his research.

Published May 2, 2014.

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