A University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health student was recently selected for a prestigious fellowship from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Starting this summer, Kevin Rolnick, a third-year medical student from Madison, will spend the next year of his academic life researching retinal degeneration in Seattle at the University of Washington School of Medicine thanks to the support of the institute and the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Headshot of Kevin Rolnick
Kevin Rolnick

Rolnick, who earned his undergraduate degree in biology at UW-Madison, has a curiosity for ophthalmology. This interest turned into an opportunity through the Howard Hughes Medical Research Fellows Program, he said.

“It’s very humbling,” he said. “I always wanted research to be a part of (my education).”

After investigating important research topics and searching for funding avenues, Rolnick found the Howard Hughes fellowship online and applied.

His application was approved, and the Foundation Fighting Blindness also agreed to support the potential valuable research he will be doing under the guidance of a mentor, Russell Van Gelder, professor and chair of the University of Washington Department of Ophthalmology and director of university’s Medicine Eye Institute.

The research will focus on the ability to change non-receptive cells in the eye to receptive cells.

Rolnick is one of 79 students around the country whose reward includes a one-year $43,000 grant, according to the Howard Hughes website. The students are eligible to apply for a second year of funding.

In the 28 years since the fellows program was first launched, it has helped more than 1,700 medical, veterinary and dental students establish a foothold in the research world, the Howard Hughes website states.