Science Majors Racking Up Scholarships At York

The saying that it’s nice to know people but nicer to have people know you, was proven at York recently when an alumnus of the College came home to recruit outstanding students for his institution’s PhD program in microbiology.

Dr. Andrew Campbell of the York College Class of ’81, a professor of Medical Science in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Brown University, has recruited three of his alma mater’s brightest biology majors graduating this year. 

Adeola Adebayo and Anika Toorie are Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) Scholars. Sherida Rahaman, mentored by Dr. Emmanuel Chang, has also been recruited to the PhD program in microbiology at Brown, starting this fall.          

“It’s really put York on Brown’s radar, said Dr. Campbell, of the recruitment effort. “And it really bodes well for York. It’s kind of like the closing of a circle.”                        

Indeed. Campbell, who was mentored at York by legendary biology professors such as Dr. Leslie Lewis and Dr. Jack Schlein, remarked on the opportunity he is now providing York Scholars in the biological sciences.

“They are getting an Ivy League education -- and it’s fully funded,” said Campbell who is director of the program. “I did not get Ivy League. I went to UCLA [for the PhD in Microbiology].”

Dr. Margaret MacNeil, a neuroscience professor in the Biology Department at York, has already been responsible for several students going on to medical school and she is proud of her latest protégé, Anika Toorie, one of the MARC Scholars heading to Brown. 

“Anika, oh she’s an enthusiastic student who loves research,” said Dr. MacNeil of her mentee. “She is driven by the need to answer questions. What impresses me most is that she can analyze data and lead to other questions she can ask. She can go beyond the problem.”

Dr. MacNeil further explained Toorie’s commitment to research.

“She was interested in neuro science…studying brain damage to the visual cortex and its impact on the retina,” she explained. “’What are the effects of these brain legions?’ Is there some way to restore some of the vision?’ She goes beyond the problem.”

Toorie’s route to MacNeil’s lab was somewhat circuitous.

“I wanted to be a teacher in elementary or high school,” said Toorie, who was born in Trinidad. “I always wanted to teach. But when I came to York I was a Bio-Tech major. Then I switched to PA (Physician Assistant) before I switched to biology.”

Chemistry professor, Dr. Emmanuel Chang who has been at York since 2006, is delighted with his student’s acceptance into the program at Brown, too.

“She’s very motivated,” he says of Sherida Rahaman, a biology major. “She’s a very good learner. She’s quite meticulous and holds herself to a very high standard. She learnt a wide variety of chemistry and molecular biology. Her project involves Cyclin-dependent kinase -- an enzyme that plays a central role in how cells divide. When they divide out of control you get tumors.” 

Rahaman, who already had a Bachelors degree in Accounting from Baruch College when she came to York, said she was motivated to give up her career as a CPA when her father died after a short battle with stomach cancer.  

 “The doctors couldn’t tell us why my father’s cancer reached stage IV without (his) exhibiting prior symptoms. And then died suddenly within three months of being diagnosed,” said Rahaman who is originally from Guyana. I wanted to understand why. [But] things happen to shape your life.” 

Now the former accountant will graduate summa cum laude from York with special honors in Biology.

Adeola Adebayo, a young Nigerian immigrant, has been studying immunology in the lab of her mentor, Dr. Ivica Arsov, a specialist in immunology. The soft-spoken scholar is both thrilled and surprised and she credits the dedicated mentors at York.

“I know I wanted to do research but never knew I’d be going to Brown,” said a humbled Adebayo who has studied proteins essential to the development of lymphocytes. “At York it is very easy to get access to the professors. You get good mentoring [here].”

Dr. Arsov underscores the point.

“The aim is to understand the mechanism of the disease,” he explained. “And Adebayo is a great student. She has a wide range of interests and a very optimistic outlook, which is what I like. She knows what she wants and is excellent in class and in the lab.”

And Arsov has high expectations of this first York cohort at Brown.

“It’s your motivation…the drive to do research…”he notes. “But I think it is very important to leave a good trail behind them (at Brown) so Dr. Campbell will want to work with us again.”

Dr. Campbell says as much.

“This is a legacy mind-set,” said Campbell who also sits on the York College Foundation Board. “When I [became director] there were five percent students of color, in the program. “Now it’s 30 percent.”

But the three students going on to Brown University this fall are far from being the only science majors moving on to impressive programs from York’s great science departments.

Dexan Brown, mentored by Dr. Jong-Ill Lee, has also received a MARC Scholarship and will pursue a PhD in molecular pharmacology at Stony Brook University; while Nicholas Hunt-Walker, mentored by Dr. Timothy Paglione, will pursue a PhD in astrophysics at the University of Washington; and several other graduating seniors are still fielding offers.

All this is great news but no surprise to Dr. Panayiotis Meleties, Dean of the School of Arts and Science at York. 

“The faculty and students of York College continue the tradition of excellence and success that they are noted for,” said Dr. Meleties. “It is really a great pleasure to congratulate the students and their faculty mentors for their admission to the graduate programs at Brown University, the University of Washington [and Stony Brook.]”

According to the dean, it’s all in the commitment.

 “The mentorship and support of York College science alumni, which has been critical for this achievement, demonstrates the long time success of the faculty and their students,” he concluded.

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