York Alum Completes PhD at Yale

Vanessa Crevecoeur-Ducas '07, has completed a doctorate degree six years after graduating from York College/CUNY with her undergraduate degree in Chemistry. She was the first York student to win the UNCF-Merck Award. Fittingly, it was her York mentor, Chemistry professor, Dr. Ruel Desamero, who shared her graduation news with the college community.

“I'm happy to announce,” he said,  “that [Vanessa] has finished her graduate program and has earned a PhD (in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry] from Yale University.”

Desamero, a Chemistry professor, is one of York’s most prolific grant recipients. In 2010 he received almost $470,000 from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of General Medical Sciences through the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS) to help fund his research project, “Dihydropteridine reductase: Mechanism of Enzyme Action.” He has also published extensively in his field.

Crevecoeur-Ducas conducted her thesis work in the laboratory of Dr. Elizabeth Rhoades (in the Biomedical Program at Yale) using single-molecule fluorescence techniques. Her  dissertation investigated the dynamics and conformational properties of two proteins characterized as intrinsically disordered, meaning, she said, they do not natively have “a well-defined secondary/tertiary structure.”

Crevecoeur-Ducas added that those proteins belong to a family of primarily neuronal proteins known as the synuclein.

“So far, three members of the synuclein proteins have been identified in humans (alpha, beta, and gamma),” she said. “My work focuses mainly on beta-synuclein and gamma-synuclein.”

Born and raised in Haiti, Crevecoeur-Ducas came to the United States to attend York College. She excelled in Dr. Desamero’s lab; and will now work as a postdoctoral fellow at the Yale Cancer Center (Yale School of Medicine), under the mentorship of Dr. Gary Kupfer, primarily focusing on testing small molecules that could render p53 mutant tumor cells sensitive to chemotherapy.

Asked about her York experience, Crevecoeur-Ducas recalled the individualized mentorship as crucial.

“I really appreciated the personal attention I received from my professors,” she said. “The Chemistry Department was a close-knit community, where the professors were truly helpful both in class and outside of the classroom. Dr. Desamero is the best mentor to have: he is motivating, challenging, and, most of all, really supportive.”

She also appreciates that he helped her to take her research interest beyond his lab.

“He highly encouraged me to explore the world outside of York,” said Crevecoeur-Ducas. “Consequently, every summer I would apply to research internships throughout the States. I had the opportunity to be a summer intern at UMass-Worcester in 2004, at Yale School of Medicine in 2005 and at Merck-Rahway, NJ, in 2006 and 2007. Those experiences not only allowed me to hone my lab skills, but through them I made new connections and was able to find a research area I enjoyed, all of which played a tremendous role when it came the time to apply for graduate school.

Dr. Crevecoeur-Ducas also appreciates that her professor’s goodwill followed her beyond the confines of York’s 50-acre campus.

“More importantly,” she explained, “Dr. Desamero’s mentorship continued beyond graduating from York. He continued to offer advice, and feedback throughout my time as a graduate student.”

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