Lilly Figueroa is a sophomore at Mancos High School, and at 16, she is also researching the molecular biology behind high twin rates in the cattle she raises with her family.
Of the 35 cows Figueroa cares for, five of them had twins. This is “really rare,” Figueroa said.
She wanted to research why this happened for her school science fair, but the high-scale project was not something she could do on her own, she said.
Figueroa recalled a representative from an organization called GripTape that visited her school in January, telling students to apply so they could receive financial support to learn more about the things they are most interested in.
After applying to the program in May, Figueroa received a $500 grant and connections to places like San Juan College and the University of Arizona.
“I talked to people all over the United States about DNA sequencing,” Figueroa said.
With help from GripTape, Figueroa said she went to San Juan College for a DNA extraction, and meets with scientists from the University of Arizona via Zoom to discuss her research.
She used hair samples from the cows that did produce twins and cows that did not produce twins to compare the DNA sequencing.
The results of her experiment are still processing, but Figueroa is now working as a youth recruiter for GripTape, in addition to running her business Colorado Kunes and Cows.
“It’s never too early to start something that you love,” Figueroa said. In addition to raising 100% grass-fed beef steers to sell to the school district, Figueroa also raises KuneKune pigs.
However, the topic students pursue if they apply to GripTape does not have to be in the science or agriculture fields, Figueroa said. Other students have focused on beautician work, 4-H projects and photography.
“There are no restrictions,” Figueroa said. “If you’re passionate about what you do, that’s the most important thing.”
For Figueroa, that passion is ranching and working with animals. But she said she is excited to help other students in the area discover GripTape and get “as many local youth as possible involved.”
Figueroa emphasized that the application process is simple – outlining your goals for your learning project. Currently, there is no limit to the number of students in Colorado that will receive a grant from the organization, Figueroa said.
“You can start with a small dream and aspiration,” she said, “and they will help it grow.”