In early March, Genomics Institute postdoctoral scholar Adriano de Bernardi Schneider sat down to lunch in a large meeting room at Vanderbilt University. Seated nearby was former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The lunch was held as part of the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), a three-day event combining panel discussions and volunteer work that marks the kickoff of a year-long program of mentoring and training for student innovators. Schneider was attending as one of the program’s long-time mentors.
Schneider has been a mentor for the Clinton Global Initiative University in the area of infectious diseases since 2018, helping students take their ideas for making a positive impact on the world from conception to reality. Each year, he receives a cohort that ranges in size from 15 to 30 students, who come to him virtually from all over the world. Schneider meets with each cohort both as a group and one-on-one as they work through the CGIU curriculum, and helps them figure out how to take an idea or product they have and make it implementable and scalable. The number of times he meets with an individual student varies depending on how far along they are in their project.
“The vast majority of students come with just their idea and they need our [mentors] support to help them shape their idea, prepare pitches and find grants, but some of them are already in the implementation phase and a few in scaling,” Schneider explained.
In his first year of being a mentor, Schneider, who had worked on a project for Zika virus response when he was a student of CGIU in 2017, was assigned students who were interested in infectious diseases. In recent years, however, he has overseen projects that cover a wide range of topics. He says that while he does help students with questions that are specific to the science of genomics and diseases, most of what he offers is broader guidance on how to bring an idea to fruition.
“It doesn’t matter what your idea is, there is a path you have to follow,” Schneider said. “Who are your clients, what do they want, will they actually use it, and how are you going to make it viable?”
What Schneider values about his contributions to CGIU is that in its core, it is a community of people with the common interest of doing good in the world.
“CGIU for me is like a second family,” he said.
The closeness of this family is evident through some of the mentees who have remained in touch with him even years later. For example, a student from Uganda named Andrew Auruku, who Schneider helped mentor in 2018 on a project to increase access to HIV testing, reached out to him again during the pandemic. Auruku’s region in Uganda was having trouble getting access to clean water, and he asked Schneider if he could help. Through Schneider’s mentoring, Auruku was able to get connected with the executive director of MissionCleanWater, and together they helped introduce portable, clean water solutions across Uganda.
Through the process, Schneider and Auruku became close, and Auruku even decided to name his son “Adriano Schneider Auruku” after his mentor.
“I will have a huge impact on my community out of a product of an intimate relationship that started as a mentor and a mentee relationship,” Auruku told the Clinton Foundation for a news story earlier this year. “That, now, is going to give a ripple effect to benefit thousands of my people.”
Having mentored students for so many years, Schneider has had many other opportunities to see his mentees flourish and make real impacts on the world.
Just a few weeks ago, he was able to meet up with two other former mentees, Benjamin Voller-Brown and Michael Li, at the 2023 United to Beat Malaria Leadership Summit in Washington DC. Schneider was speaking on how local advocacy can help fight malaria as part of a panel called “From Local to Global: Movement to Achieve a Malaria-Free Generation.” While at the event, he saw both mentees present the product they developed under his mentorship—a repair kit for insecticide-treated bed nets—to prospective partners and stakeholders.
“You get to see those students who come in with an idea flourishing and becoming successful entrepreneurs,” Schneider said. “It is a really cool program.”
Bringing startup experience to UC Santa Cruz
Schneider’s passion for taking direct action to benefit human health is also reflected in his academic projects. He is currently a postdoctoral scholar in the lab of Russ Corbett-Detig, associate professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz, where he works on a project with the California Department of Public Health. In this project, Schneider is part of a team responsible for the development of software to analyze SARS-CoV-2 genomic data to further inform public health officers on viral dynamics and help curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schneider said that he is glad to be working in Russ’s lab, which he sees as very forward-thinking in its drive to create real health applications for their work. He sees a parallel between what he does at UC Santa Cruz and his experience with CGIU.
“In addition to my role in research and publishing papers, I also have the role of being the bridge between academia and public health,” Schneider said. “In that sense, I would say that the skills I got through interacting with students from diverse fields and also the startup environment allow me to know how to speak these different languages and jump between different groups without speaking too much scientific jargon to them.”
Schneider’s long-term goal when he finishes his postdoc appointment is to become a faculty member so he can continue to influence students, and he hopes that his experience combining basic science with real-world applications both through CGIU and the partnership Russ’s lab has with the CDPH will allow him to be a better teacher and mentor.
“I feel like I can give more to students with a more broad perspective,” Schneider said.
When asked what advice he has for students who want to become entrepreneurs, Schneider shared, “There is not a single piece [of advice], but I would say to work mainly on your networking. If you want to become a successful entrepreneur you have to be well-connected. And if you have a great idea but you are not outspoken, find a partner who can do that networking for you. To be able to deliver a product to market you will need to leverage that network, because nothing gets done in isolation these days.”