HBCU Students Conduct Research at UCLA this Summer

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This summer, six students from three Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) will contribute to UCLA research projects. 

The goal of the Summer Research and Admission Pathways Program is to introduce bright undergraduates to UCLA, give them an opportunity to engage in ground breaking science, prepare them for graduate school, and attract them back for their graduate research.

At the end of their visit, each student will present a poster at the UCLA Summer Programs for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) Poster Session on Thursday, August 11, 2016, from 2 to 5 p.m. in Hershey Hall 158.  

About SPUR

The SPUR programs offer 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.  

About the UC-HBCU Initiative

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. For eight weeks, HBCU students conduct research in a faculty member’s lab. Visiting students are paired with a current graduate student mentor to ease their transition into the program and provide guidance along the way. During the program, HBCU students attend faculty lunch seminars, participate in workshops, attend socials, and visit UC-Santa Barbara to experience a new campus. HBCU students also have the opportunity to visit the Thousand Oaks based biotechnology company Amgen and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena to learn more about careers in the science field.

2016 UC-HBCU Program

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Ngozi Elobuike and Bahiyah Shabazz from Howard University, Daphney Sihwa and Taylor Williams-Hamilton from Spelman College, and Alexandria Lauray and Dinushka Herath from Clark-Atlanta University will spend part of their summer working in chemistry and biochemistry labs learning about research areas, such as understanding complex biological systems and organic science, that are a good fit with their scientific interests and career goals. They join students from various parts of the country who come to UCLA as part of the SPUR programs. Working with UCLA faculty, graduate students, and postdocs, the students will experience first-hand the excitement of conducting academic research in Bruin labs. 

Photo above: Malika Shabazz (left) and Dinushka Herath (right) participate in the first lunch seminar with Prof. Albert Courey, Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the UCLA Division of Physical Sciences.

Our Visiting Undergraduate Researchers

Ngozi Elobuike

Elobuike NgoziNgozi Elobuike is a sophomore at Howard University in Washington, D.C. This summer, she is working in Prof. David Eisenberg’s lab and her student mentor is Alexandra Mendoza. As an undergraduate, she worked in the SEA-PHAGES laboratory and in Dr. Willian Montague Cobb’s lab. Her inspiration for entering the science field is her mother. Her mom encouraged her to be inquisitive from a young age and consider how the knowledge she acquires can be used to help the world at large. Ngozi entered the sciences because, “in life there are things we get lost in, or rather become so consumed in that we forget ourselves. We study the minute details, piecing them together until we can uncover the larger picture. A brief moment of contentment, and then our minds begin to work again, conjuring up the next idea, posing the next question, and considering its applications. For me that ‘thing’ is science”. As a UCLA researcher, she hopes to gain more experience in research and use the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop academically. She also hopes to develop her network. “It is my belief that your network is your networth, thus the more connections developed, the more you will advance in your career… Since this program is targeted towards HBCU students, I also get to interact with peers similar to myself.” Long-term, Ngozi aims to receive her M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. and obtain a fellowship or research-oriented residency.

Alexandria Lauray

Lauray AlexandriaAlexandria Lauray is a senior at Clark Atlanta College. Previously, she worked in labs researching prostate cancer as well as in the Redox Biology lab with Dr. Rebecca Roston at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Dr. Roston became an inspiration to Alexandria to stay in the science field. Besides Dr. Roston, Alexandria reports that, “I am my inspiration and influence. I encouraged myself to pursue the sciences because I am fascinated with biology and I enjoy it. I believe that science is in control of everything around us and science has evolved in many ways. I would love to be a part of that process of evolution”. Alexandria is currently working in Prof. Steven Clarke’s lab at UCLA and her summer student mentor is Rebecca Warmack. She hopes to further develop her biochemistry knowledge and expand her area of expertise while conducting research at UCLA. Alexandria is still deciding on her long term career goals and is considering applying to M.D. or Ph.D. programs. 

Bahiyah “Malika” Shabazz

Shabazz BahiyahBahiyah Shabazz, who prefers to go by Malika, is a senior at Howard University in Washington, D.C. After her aunt passed away, Malika was inspired to pursue the sciences. As an undergraduate, Malika has conducted research involving experimental gerontology with a focus in Alzheimer disease. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to attend graduate school at UCLA or at a southeastern university. At UCLA, Malika is currently working in Prof. Albert Courey’s lab and her student mentor is Marco Messina. She hopes to gain a better understanding of graduate programs at UCLA after her summer research experience.  

Daphney Sihwa

Sihwa DaphneyDaphney Sihwa is a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. She is working in Prof. Joseph Loo’s lab this summer at UCLA and her student mentor is Deborah Jarrett. Daphney is participating in the summer research program to sharpen her problem solving and critical thinking skills. She is also excited about meeting new faculty from various disciplines who engage in cutting-edge research. “I developed an interest in the sciences at an early age. As I grew older, I realized I was good at it and decided to pursue a career in the field of science.” In the long-term, Daphney plans on obtaining her doctorate in biotechnology and eventually work in the industry. Her previous research experience includes research on polypyridine based materials for biomedical applications as well as electrospray mass spectrometry and density functional theory studies of estrone fragmentation mechanisms. 

Taylor Williams-Hamilton

Williams HamiltonTaylor Williams-Hamilton is a senior at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Currently, she is in Prof. Jorge Torres’ lab and her student mentor is Ivan Ramirez. Her prior research projects include functional analysis of G693D Missense, mutation in MSH2 DNA mismatch repair gene, and bioassay of hair relaxer on planarian worms. Taylor hopes to gain more hands-on, independent research experience in the lab during her time at UCLA this summer. When asked why she entered the sciences, she reports, “because I enjoy challenges. The work of a scientist is never done because there are phenomena that still need to be explained. Learning and my contribution to the science are never finished. There is always an opportunity to create and discover”. Taylor reports that she is her own inspiration to remain in the science field. “Science was a challenge for me in high school, but I enjoyed it. I decided to major in a STEM field because I knew that I could understand and enjoy it. Now I excel in all my STEM related courses.” Her long-term education goal is to receive her M.D. or Ph.D. from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and specialize in dermatology. She plans on focusing her research on age-related diseases or melanoma. 

Dinushka Herath

Herath DinushkaDinushka Herath is a junior at Clark-Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. During the summer before starting his undergraduate career, he was a part of a STEM summer bridge program where he met faculty and another student who inspired him to follow a science path. When asked why he is in the sciences, he reported, “I love math and sciences. Anything in either has always interested me and they have always come naturally for me. I always just follow whatever interests me.” As an undergraduate, Dinushka has worked on a research project involving double nitrogen doping on graphene. Currently, he is working in Prof. Ken Houk’s lab under the direction of graduate student Brian Levandowski, and his student mentor is Emma Pelegri-O’Day. As a participant in this program, Dinushka hopes to gain insight into the life of a graduate student, have a better understanding of how projects are designed, develop papers, and explore his interest in organic chemistry, biology, and bioinformatics. His long-term goals include attending graduate school, continuing to conduct research, and becoming a math or chemistry professor. 

The 2015 pilot HBCU program in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was a huge success.  Following the 2015 SPUR poster session at CNSI, a reception was held in the new Young Hall Student Center for all the SPUR students who conducted research during the summer in chemistry and biochemistry labs. 

Many thanks to Graduate Student Affairs Officer Justyna Wojtach for writing this article and providing the photos.