Valedictorian Sings Praises of York Mentors

Debra Whorms has a brilliant and ready smile and the wattage was even brighter on graduation day. With an overall York GPA of 3.989 and perfect 4.0 in her Chemistry major, Ms. Whorms was ready for her close-up on Graduation Day, May 31th.

She plans to be a physician, but first she has an interview scheduled with the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, where she hopes to get a paid internship next academic year while applying to MD/PhD programs.

Born in the Jamaican parish of St. Ann, Whorms immigrated to the United States with her mother, Beverly Tracey in 2008 after graduating from Westwood High School in Jamaica. They settled in Jamaica, Queens.

"I entered the gates of York College overly excited to continue my quest to receive a bachelor's degree," said Whorms. "As a student with very little knowledge of life in the US and fields in which I could venture, I was undecided—not quite uncommon for the average student. My interest and aptitude in science and mathematics, however, have never been overlooked as I pondered between chemistry, biology and mathematics. Ultimately, because of the warm and caring faculty of the Chemistry Department as well as my personal preference for the [study of] chemistry, I decided to venture into this field."

Whorms who is also the inaugural recipient of the Professor Frank Pomilla Award for Science Teaching," developed a sincere interest in scientific research," in the Chemistry laboratory of York alum and former faculty member, Dr. Mande Holford.

"In the summer of 2011, I started doing research under the supervision of Dr. Holford, investigating the pharmacological and biological diversity of peptidic toxins found in the venom of selected marine snails," says Whorms. "From working in this lab I have learned a number of important scientific techniques like protein separation, purification, and identification techniques. I was introduced to complex and abstract ideas that have opened my mind to even deeper scientific reasoning. The following year I began to work in the lab of Dr. Ruel Desamero where I study the mechanism of aggregation of amylin (hIAPP). Amylin is a polypeptide that is found to form insoluble amyloid deposits in diabetic patients."

Whorms says that through this research she was introduced to a number of spectral methods including circular dichroism spectroscopy, UV-visible spectroscopy, and fluorescence spectroscopy. Spectroscopy, she explains, is an important technique with a wide range of applications in a variety of fields.

"Through this lab, I developed an even a greater appreciation of science and my knowledge of the applications of chemistry has grown tremendously," said Whorms.

In the summer of 2012, Whorms participated in the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program at Washington University in St Louis where she worked under the supervision of Dr. Peter Crawford. Her research involved the use of genetic mouse models to understand the role of the Ketogenic-Ketolytic axis in metabolic disorders like obesity and diabetes. This research experience with the Leadership Alliance introduced her to "the wide world of" scientific inquiry in biomedicine, physical chemistry, pharmacology, and a number of other fields.

She has also presented her work in the form of posters and PowerPoint talks at various symposiums including the American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Symposium (2012), The Leadership Alliance Research Symposium (2012), The York College Research Symposium (2011 & 2012), and the Summer Research Symposium at Washington University in St. Louis (2012).

Whorms has also tutored at York, working 20 hours per week in the college's Academic Achievement Center.

"My overall experience at York College was an enriching one," says Whorms. "I have been guided by a number of kind and diligent faculty and staff who allowed me to see life on the outside world. The professors here go above and beyond to help out students; and it’s a friendly atmosphere."

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