HBCU Students Conduct Research at UCLA this Summer

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Six undergraduate students from two Historically Black Colleges and Universities will contribute to research projects in the department this summer.

The UC-HBCU Initiative seeks to increase the number of scholars from HBCUs enrolling in UC academic doctoral programs by investing in UC-HBCU relationships. Emanuel Demissie, Toyosi Falegan, Norman Harris, Janet Nwokolo-Aniekwu, and Danae Sanders, all from Howard University, and Tyree Thompson, from Clark-Atlanta University, will complete an eight-week summer research rotation working in either a chemistry or biochemistry laboratory.  

The program participants have been matched with a faculty member whose research aligns with their scientific interests. Each student will have the opportunity to learn about different areas of scientific research while working alongside faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers, giving each student an opportunity to explore academic interests. They have also each been paired with a graduate student mentor from the UCLA Organization for Cultural Diversity in Science (OCDS) to guide them through the summer and answer any questions about the graduate school experience.

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On their first day at UCLA, three of the six visiting HBCU students pose for a photo with faculty mentors and staff outside the chemistry and biochemistry building; (from left) Graduate Student Affairs Officer Annie Carpenter, Director of Graduate Programs and Initiatives Dr. Thomas Cahoon, Emanuel Demissie, Danae Sanders, Tyree Thompson, Professor Jose Rodriguez and Professor Joseph Loo.

Throughout the program, HBCU students will attend faculty lunch seminars, participate in workshops, attend socials, and visit UC Santa Barbara to experience another new campus. HBCU students also have the opportunity to visit the Thousand Oaks based biotechnology company Amgen to learn more about careers in the science field. 

The department’s HBCU-Pathways program is a subset of the Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR), which offers upper division undergraduate students with outstanding academic potential the opportunity to work closely with faculty mentors on research projects. The programs are designed for students who wish to learn more about the graduate school experience and possibly pursue an academic career in teaching and research, while attracting them back for their graduate research.  

At the end of their visit, each student will present a poster at the SPUR Poster Session on Thursday, August 17, 2017, from 2 to 5 p.m. (location to be announced).  

Our Visiting Undergraduate Researchers

Emanuel Demissie

Demissie%2C%20EmanuelEmanuel Demissie is a rising junior at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  This summer, he is working in Professor Joseph Loo’s lab, and his OCDS student mentor is Ethan Rosser. In his undergraduate career so far, he has completed an internship at the University of Maryland and Food and Drug Administration, working with his mentor to find efficient ways to measure oxygen content in hemoglobin, and conducted research in the SEA-P.H.A.G.E.S. laboratory in Washington D.C.  Currently, he conducts genomic research with the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation.  Emanuel plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D after graduating from Howard, with the hope of practicing medicine while also conducting biochemical research.  Emanuel says, “The excellent mentors and classes that the UCLA Summer Research and Admissions Pathways Program provides will be invaluable to me as a student with dreams of going to graduate school. I know in my heart that this summer will leave me with cherished memories as well as a renewed and clear plan for my future endeavors.”

Toyosi Falegan

Falegan%2C%20ToyosiToyosi Falegan is a rising junior at Howard University.  This summer, he will work in Professor Jorge Torres’ lab, and his OCDS student mentor is Kevin Cannon. At Howard, Toyosi conducts research under Dr. Joanne Allard in the College of Medicine, Department of Neurophysiology and Biophysics. This research focuses on Alzheimer’s disease-related pathology, which aligns with his interest in finding a global solution to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Down syndrome, HIV, cancer, and malaria. Toyosi grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, and has been inspired by his family in his academic pursuits. He plans to attend medical school after graduating from Howard, and says, “I want to go back to Africa and apply technical skills I will have gained from my studies in the United States and improve the healthcare situation in Africa, other third-world countries and the world as a whole.” Toyosi is looking forward to a great scientific experience this summer at UCLA, along with getting the opportunity to learn more about American culture while meeting new people.

Norman Harris II

Harris%2C%20NormanNorman Harris II is a rising junior at Howard University, where he studies Psychology with a pre-medicine focus, with a minor in Chemistry. This summer, he is working in Prof. Ken Houk’s lab, and his OCDS student mentor is Janice Lin. Norman is interested in the intersection between chemistry and medicine. He looks forward to beginning lab research at UCLA this summer. Last summer, Norman participated in the 2016 Yale School of Medicine Internship, a highly selective six-week intensive pre-medicine program, allowing him to conduct clinical shadowing rotations in emergency, pediatrics, and neurology departments. Norman has been very involved in extracurricular activities so far in his undergraduate career, including work with the American Psychiatric Association, the Howard University Student Association, and Residence Life. Norman plans to obtain his M.D.-Ph.D, and says, “Participation in the UCLA SPUR Program will elevate my ambitions equipping me with the research experience and knowledge to contribute solutions to the problems of tomorrow.”

Janet Nwokolo-Aniekwu

Nwokolu Aniekwu%2C%20JanetJanet Nwokolo-Aniekwu is a rising senior at Howard University. Janet will work in Professor David Eisenberg’s laboratory this summer, and her OCDS student mentor is Kristina Garske. Janet began scientific research in high school through the Freshman Research Initiative at the University of Texas under Dr. Anne Tibbets, which sparked her interest in the influence of biochemistry on neurological development. At Howard, she joined the SEA-P.H.A.G.E.S. honors laboratory, and was one of nine students selected to participate in a research lab led by Dr. Winston Anderson entitled “Bacteriophage Diversity in Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Waterways,” and a manuscript based on this research is slated for later publication. Last summer, Janet participated in the Howard section of the Minority Health and Health Disparities International Research Training Program in Ife-Ife, Nigeria, studying the pathogenicity of samples from HIV seropositive and negative mothers, which was an especially impactful experience for her as the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. She says, “I left Nigeria with a more focused vision of how to expand my research ideas with relevance to the goals I had set out for myself and an increased passion for the furthering of clinical research in underdeveloped nations.” Janet hopes to achieve her goal of advancing clinical research and biomedical sciences globally after attending medical school.

Danae Sanders

Sanders%2C%20DanaeDanae Sanders is a rising sophomore at Howard University. Danae will be working with Professor Jose Rodriguez, and her OCDS student mentor is Madeline Gelb. She developed her love for chemistry at a very young age, and she plans to become a medical research scientist.  She says she would like to “further [her] passion for studying diseases, viruses, and infections that are deemed incurable by other scientists,” including cancer, AIDS, asthma, allergies, and eczema, among others. She is motivated by her family and hopes to serve as a role model for her younger cousins, inspiring them that despite difficult circumstances, they can still succeed. She says, “After my first year of college, I felt that UCLA was a great place to help me shape my future in the sciences. I look forward to opportunities in networking and learning more about UCLA graduate programs.”                                                                                                                                 

Tyree Thompson

Thompson%2C%20TyreeTyree Thompson is a rising junior at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia, where she studies Biomedical Engineering. Tyree will be working in Professor Al Courey’s lab, and her OCDS student mentor is Lauren Thurlow. She is interested in researching the extra cellular matrix or genetic modification, and would like to apply her engineering knowledge to research the biological systems of the human body and regenerative medicine. Tyree would like to explore how genetic modification can produce solutions or prevention for genetic disorders. When asked why she chose UCLA, Tyree said, “I selected this program because I believe this will be a great opportunity to gain research experience in a personal field of interest. Although Biochemistry and Chemistry are not my major, the topics within them closely align with my personal interests.” She looks forward to gaining more exposure to research this summer.

Many thanks to Graduate Student Affairs Officer Annie Carpenter for writing this article. Photos by Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.