UMSL alumnus discusses $1.4 million award on St. Louis Public Radio

by | Oct 23, 2019

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute named Kevin L. Cox Jr. a Hanna Gray Fellow and awarded him money to support his research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
Kevin L. Cox Jr., a post-doctoral associate in the Blake Meyers Lab at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, was awarded a $1.4 million fellowship from the the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. (Photo courtesy of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center)

UMSL alumnus Kevin L. Cox Jr., a post-doctoral associate in the Blake Meyers Lab at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, was awarded a $1.4 million fellowship from the the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. (Photo courtesy of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute 2019/Whitney Curtis)

Discovering microbes during his sophomore year at the University of Missouri–St. Louis was a windfall for Florissant-native Kevin L. Cox Jr.

They quickly became his life’s work, and after graduating in 2013 with majors in biology and chemistry, he headed to graduate school and then a postdoctoral program at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

There he found a second windfall.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institutie named Cox one of its 15 2019 Hanna Gray Fellows in September. The award of $1.4 million is intended to support exceptional and diverse early career scientists and will help fund his Danforth Plant Center work.

On Oct. 21, Cox spoke to Andrea Y. Henderson of St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU about what it means to him to receive the award and what he hopes to accomplish with the funds – as a scientist and as an inspiration to others.

“This fellowship means everything,” Cox said to Henderson. “It not only jump-starts my whole career, but it allows me to be a leader in the sciences – not just to the general public but also to those from underrepresented backgrounds.”

At the plant center, Cox is investigating how plants respond to microbial diseases with an eye to improving global food supply. His efforts gets to the spirit of his childhood desire to become a doctor.

“I saw myself as a person who wanted to help others,” he said. “I thought the best way to do that was to become a medical doctor, but as I got older and got in my career here, I realized I’m still helping others but at a much larger volume because I’m helping the world solve a global problem.”

Listen to the whole conversation here.

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