York Valedictorian Makes Five for Five for Chemistry Dept.

The York College Valedictorian for the Class of 2016 has emerged and for the fifth consecutive year there is an affiliation with the Chemistry department.

Eunice Udensi, a Pharmaceutical Science major mentored in the Chemistry department, came to York from her native Abia State, Nigeria four years ago and quickly acclimated to a busy college life of research and co-curricular activities.

Early on, her impressive GPA caught the attention of Amy Wolfe in the Academic Advisement Center, which led to tutoring jobs in the Mathematics lab and Academic Achievement Center, where then-director Steven Tyson, told her that with her grades she could become valedictorian of her class.

“I didn’t know what that meant,” said Udensi. “But I didn’t want him to know that I did not know. So I looked it up when I got home and told myself I could do it.”

While searching online for the meaning of the impressive word, Udensi also came across Tony Wan’s TV interview when he was York’s valedictorian in 2012. That sealed her commitment.

“I didn’t know about things to apply for,” said Udensi. But Dr. Tyson motivated me to apply for internships and came in on a Sunday to do a recommendation letter for me. He motivated me to apply for all these opportunities.”

“These opportunities” would go on to include a research internship at Stony Brook University; a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute Conference and a dizzying list of awards received through York.

She received the Prof. Eugene Levin Scholarship for Excellence in Science and Paid Summer Internship; became a member of the Honors Program, Wells Fargo Scholar, and Mildred Cooper Scholar; and made the Dean’s List throughout her four years at York (2012-2016) and was a member of Sigma Alpha Pi from 2014-2016.

Udensi, the second of four children in her family, also made time for membership in the Chemistry and the Pre-Med Clubs. She was tailor-made for rigorous academic work at York College even before coming to New York. Throughout her education in Nigeria, Udensi attended school Mondays through Saturdays and the summer months as well; and says it was “compulsory.”

“I felt at home when I came to York,” said Udensi, who now lives in Hollis, Queens. “The professors were very helpful.”

 Among those “helpful” professors have been her research mentor, Dr. Ruel Desamero; and Dr. Yolanda Small, Dr. Adam Profit and mathematics professor Dr. Farley Mawyer. According to Desamero, Udensi shows great promise for medical school.

“She worked on studying the mechanism behind protein aggregation,” he said. “[It] is an interesting field because many diseases, like Type II diabetes, Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow, Parkinson’s…are caused by protein aggregation. While she was in the lab, she worked hard and learned techniques very quickly.”

The busy scholar was also accepted into the 10-week American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics-Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (ASPET-SURF) program at Stony Brook University in April 2015. Her mentor there, Dr. David Talmage researches on type III neuregulin1-ERBB4 interactions.

At Stony Brook, Udensi researched on “Neuronal Type Specific Gene Therapy: Engineering Novel Cell Tropism in AAV.” She synthesized adeno-associated virus (AAV), which is specific to Trk A receptor and carries the gene responsible for the production of acetylcholine.

“Neuronal gene therapy with AAV, if feasible, will open doors for a lot of improvement in gene therapy for Alzheimer disease patients,” she explained.

Her research presentations at York have included, “As Certain as Day Turns to Night,” which highlights the experiments done by Heisenberg, Schrodinger’s Cat and the mathematical derivation of Schrodinger’s Equation; and “Zinc Fingers.” 

“Our students have the ability to do well,” said Tyson. "They just need someone to believe in them and give them opportunities.”

Udensi’s mother, Mrs. Ugo Kalu Udensi, still lives in Nigeria and will be watching her daughter’s valedictory speech live with the aid of technology. Her father, Mr. Kalu Udensi and her three siblings all reside in the United States.

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