Immigrants from Russia, China, Nigeria and Surinam Are Among Six Winners of CUNY Salk Scholarships

A former resident of Nigeria who often worked a 30-hour week in a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant during the school year so she could afford college is among six outstanding City University of New York students who received Jonas E. Salk Scholarships to study medicine. Seven others were named honorary winners.

Mrs. Edith B. Everett, a member of the CUNY Board of Trustees and a long-time supporter of the program, and Dr. Christoph Kimmich, the University’s Interim Chancellor, presented the awards and medical diagnostic kits to the winners in ceremonies on June 25 at Hunter College.

Dr. Ian K. Smith, health and science reporter for WNBC-TV, and orthopaedic surgeon at Albert Einstein College of Medicine Hospital, the guest speaker, addressed the winners and their families. “The sole motivation of medicine should be from the heart, providing care equally to the `haves’ and the `have-nots’,” he said.

Eyiuche Okeke, who attended high school in Nigeria, participated, while at York College, in summer research programs at Yale’s School of Medicine and at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. After her first year at York, she was a summer volunteer at Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens, where, she says, “the compassion and dedication the doctors and nurses displayed toward the patients was inspiring.”

The other immigrants among the winners are Diana Feldman, who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia; Xiangen (Annie) Wu, from China; and Bianca Van-Kust, who was born in Surinam.

Ms.Feldman and Ms. Wu, graduates of Hunter College, will attend Cornell University Medical School. Ms. Van-Kust, an alumna of City College, will attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania.

The other winners are Steven B. Braunstein, an honors graduate of Brooklyn College, who is headed for the New York University School of Medicine, and Hannah Farquharson, a City College graduate who will attend the medical school at the University of California at San Francisco.

The students were chosen because of their brilliant academic records, the quality of their research projects, and volunteer work. Many overcame economic and personal hardships, including speaking English as a second language, in order to reach their goal.

The scholarships are named for Dr. Jonas E. Salk, the discoverer of the polio vaccine, who graduated from City College in 1934. They carry a $1,000 a year stipend toward medical school tuition. When Dr. Salk was offered a ticker tape parade by New York City in 1955 in honor of his discovery, he asked that the money be used for scholarships instead. CUNY pre-med students since then have received the scholarships and gone on to leadership positions in medical research and medical practice.

The City University of New York, the nation’s leading urban university, comprises 11 senior colleges, six community colleges, a graduate school, a law school, a medical school and an affiliated school of medicine. Close to 202,000 degree-credit students and 150,000 adult and continuing education students are enrolled throughout the five boroughs of the City of New York. More information is available on the CUNY Website (Error! Bookmark not defined..

1998 Salk Award Recipients


Steve E. Braunstein
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, NY

Steve Braunstein is already well on his way to becoming a physician. A paper he co-authored with researchers at New York Medical College was recently published in The Journal of Cellular Biochemistry, and his abstracts have been published by organizations like the American Society of Hematology and the Biophysical Society. Through a Merck Honors Research Fellowship, he investigated protein folding using flourescence spectroscopy. And at Brooklyn College, where he majored in chemistry and minored in psychology, he accomplished the rare feat of earning a perfect 4.00 grade point average.

He also has great enthusiasm for knowledge that lies outside of his chosen field. He was an officer in the Philosophy Society, and a member of Hillel House and the Honors Advisory Committee. As a Presidential Student Ambassador, he represented Brooklyn College students to the city government and the local community, and he has won numerous awards both within the scientific fields and outside of them. His awards include a Batterman Chemistry Scholarship, the Koblin Chemistry Award, the Lawrence Memorial Sociology Award, and the Mantiband Prize in Classics. He will attend the N.Y.U. School of Medicine, where he hopes to study the causes and treatment of disease at the genetic level.

Hannah Farquharson
City College
New York, NY

Hannah Farquharson’s dedication to medicine is both personal and professional. She spent her first year of college attending to her dying grandmother, and then supported her mother through her successful battle against bone cancer. In Hannah’s single-parent household, there was no other adult to balance the effects of her mother’s illness, so Hannah managed the family’s daily life while she watched the doctors managing her mother’s treatment. She also supported herself and found a niche in medicine by working full-time as an assistant to an optometrist. Although the job made great demands on her time, it also gave her the opportunity to enter a doctor’s office through the employees’ door rather than through the patients’.

At the same time, she sought her own answers from science at City College, and she excelled. As the first member of her family to attend college, she taught herself to study. She shared her knowledge with other students by working as a peer tutor, and she pursued this interest by minoring in education. She worked towards her medical career through her major in biology, and served as the president of the campus premedical club. Her academic awards are numerous, including the Pearl Rosenthal Scholarship, the Jack Gainen Award, and the Mage Scholarship, and her professors recommend her both a leader and as a team player. This reputation followed her from the classroom to the volleyball court, where she was elected the captain and most valuable player of the varsity team. She will pursue her medical degree at the University of California at San Francisco, where she plans to study how DNA viruses cause cancer.

Diana Feldman
Hunter College
Jackson Heights, NY

Following a Russian tradition of integrating the sciences with the arts, Diana Feldman studied music in her native St. Petersburg while she dreamed of becoming a doctor. In 1989, she was one of eight musicians from her region who were invited to perform at a concert in Prague. This trip became the prelude to her emigration to the U.S., where her career in medicine began to take shape.

When she volunteered at Elmurst Hospital’s Adolescent Psychiatric Unit, Diana’s childhood love for medicine became less romantic but more intense. She learned how difficult and important it is for doctors to be compassionate under even the most stressful conditions, and she takes a philosophical approach to the career she has chosen. With the belief that curing the body is inseparable from curing the mind and the spirit, Diana majored in psychology at Hunter College while she minored in chemistry. She also won Hunter’s S & W Scholarship and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She conducts research in the Hematology-Oncology Department at the Cornell University Medical College, where she will begin medical school in the fall.

Bianca Van-Kust
City College
New York, NY

Bianca Van-Kust grew up in the small, South American country of Surinam. Her mother raised her and her brother single-handedly, often working long hours under difficult conditions. Twice Bianca ended up in a boarding house, and she learned to take care of herself.

She also spent much of her time with her uncle, who was ill. He had contracted a mysterious disease that caused his muscles to atrophy, resulting in paralysis. Bianca’s family sought the medical attention of both western doctors and traditional herbalists, but no one understood the disease and how to cure it. Bianca did what she could to help, and like her uncle’s doctors, she was frustrated that she didn’t know how to treat his disease. As she grew up, her desire to learn grew, too. She began studying at a community college when she came to the United States in 1992, and two years later she entered City College, where she majored in biology. There she was accepted into the Minority Access to Research Careers Program (MARC), which enabled her to work with graduate students and to present her team’s findings at several symposia. She studied the Drosophilia eye, and she was awarded the Physics Achievement Award in 1996. She will pursue her medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania.

Eyiuche Okeke
York College
New York, NY

Eyiuche Okeke lived in Nigeria from the time she was seven until she graduated from high school. While she was there, her grandmother was hospitalized for terminal diabetes. Eyiuche saw how the doctors’ skills soothed her grandmother and the rest of her family, and believes that that experience planted the seeds for her own medical career.

When Eiyuche moved back to the United States, she worked thirty hours a week to support herself while she pursued her major in mathematics and her minor in chemistry at York College. She also became a mathematics tutor and volunteered at the Mary Immaculate Hospital in Queens. There she fed and reassured patients, remembering how the hospital staff in Nigeria had fed and reassured her grandmother. In a summer research program at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, she studied the effects of cytokines on cervical cancer cell lines, and in a program at Yale University, she researched the effects of chronic hypoxia on rats. She will study medicine at Harvard University, where she hopes to conduct research on endocrinology and HIV/AIDS.

Xiangen (Annie) Wu
Hunter College
New York, NY

Five years ago, Annie Wu came to the U.S. from mainland China, where mother was a doctor and her older brother was a medical student. One year after she came to New York, Annie entered Hunter College knowing that she wanted to follow in these footsteps. Since then, she has devoted herself to her lifelong ambition to help other people lead longer, healthier lives.

Her unique talents give her an exceptional ability to do this. As a volunteer at the Delancey Child Health Clinic, she used her linguistic abilities to interpret between the Chinese-speaking patients and the English-speaking staff, and as a tutor in Hunter’s Office of Disabled Students, she drew on her capacity for patience and compassion. In addition, her talent in the sciences made her a valued research assistant in Hunter’s Supramolecular Lab.

Annie majored in chemistry and minored in physics and mathematics, and she distinguished herself at the top of her class. Cornell Medical College selected her as one of Hunter’s top three undergraduate premedical students and invited her to conducted research in their International Medicine/Infectious Disease Department. Through this program, Annie studied the parasites that afflict immunodeficiency patients, and she worked in the monoclonal antibody project. Her many honors include the Melani Scholarship, the Phillip and Aida Siff Scholarship, and seven semesters on the Dean’s List. She will attend Cornell University Medical College.


Adebowale A. (Debo) Adeyemi
City College
New York, NY

Growing up in a small town in Africa gave Debo Adeyemi much closer contact with organic processes than most New Yorkers ever experience. At holidays, his extended family would slaughter a goat or a cow, and someone would take out the organs to explain how each one worked. Debo was fascinated by the way the parts fit together to to sustain the whole, and he developed a keen interest in science. When he came to New York with his family in 1989, he was chosen to participate in the Cooperative Science Education Program at NYU, where he learned to use research to formulate scientific questions and answers. He developed the desire to learn more so that he could use this ability to help prevent and cure disease.

One year later, he found himself in New York without his parents, and he had to work full time to support himself and his siblings. He worked as a cashier in a grocery store as well as tutoring at City College, where he majored in biology and minored in education. He also worked as a student researcher in the college’s immunology laboratory, and he co-authored a paper which was recently accepted for publication by the Journal of Cellular Immunology. His many awards include the City Lights Award for Outstanding Student Research and the CCNY Student Service Award, and he is a member of the United Nigerian Students’ Association. He currently teaches math and science at a middle school in Harlem, where he shares with his students his conviction that science can be fun and fulfilling, that with diligence and discipline, they can become doctors. He will continue to follow this philosophy at the University of Connecticut’s School of Medicine.

Sharon Bruckstein
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, NY

When she was in high school at the Torah Academy for Girls in Brooklyn, Sharon Bruckstein volunteered at a senior residential facility. She kept the patients company, and she often gained insight from them. She was particularly struck by the optomism which guided many of them. One of the women in the facility dreamed of shopping at Loehmann’s, and another dreamed of the recipes she would cook for her family, who had always loved her cooking. These women’s ability to value the future and work towards goals that sometimes seemed remote and unattainable gave Sharon a reference point at moments when her own course seemed difficult.

She continues to help herself by helping others. At the Chai Lifeline Institute, she works with children who have cancer, tutoring them in grammar and math and learning from their models of perserverance. She also tutors college students in chemistry and MCAT preparation, and is a Brooklyn College Honors Academy Ambassador. Through the Association for Women in Science, she has attended lectures and workshops that address issues of concern to women who pursue careers in her field. Her father is a gastroenterologist and her mother is a nurse, and she will continue this family tradition as she studies towards her medical degree at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Nelli Fisher
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, NY

Nelli Fisher completed three years of medical school in Russia before she had to leave the country. At the end of her third year, she was given a patient to diagnose a big man with an abdomen that was swollen and hard because of the cancer that was growing inside of it. She remembers him smiling at her and saying, “You’re my doctor, aren’t you?”

Then she came to New York and had to start over again, starting her medical career at the beginning. She enrolled at Brooklyn College, where she majored in chemistry and worked as a tutor in math and science. She also took liberal arts classes, which helped her to understand and appreciate her new country in all of its diversity. She experienced that diversity first hand when she volunteered in the emergency room at Brookdale Hospital, and she participated in a summer program designed to interest women and minorities in science. She has won many awards, including the Annual Award for Excellence in Study of Russian and Phi Beta Kappa Propylea Award. She is especially interested in biochemistry and enzymes, and she will begin working towards her American medical degree at SUNY’s Health Science Center in Brooklyn in the fall.

David Khaski
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, NY

David Khaski developed a love of medicine at home, where he saw the intensity of his father’s career as a cardiologist. He watched his father save his patients’ lives and suffer the continued losses of the terminally ill. David is inspired to work like his father to fulfill the tenets of the Hippocratic Oath, bringing compassion and intelligence to the field of medicine.

Even before he began studying biology at Brooklyn College, David visited hospitals and nursing homes as a volunteer in the community organization Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH). He worked as a tutor in biology and chemistry, and he completed research internships in the operating room at Beth Israel and with the Chief of Pathology of the NYU Medical Center. He developed his love for molecular biology in the laboratories at Brooklyn College, where he is investigating how methylation of CCG triplet repeats can alter organization of chromatin in the nucleus. He plans to pursue this new interest when he begins medical school at New York Medical College.

Tchaiko Parris
Hunter College
Brooklyn, NY

When she was eight years old and living in her native country of Guyana, Tchaiko Parris had tonsillitis. The doctor who attended her seemed like an angel to her, beaming with confidence and easing her pain. Tchaiko watched other children go into his office crying and come out smiling, and she wondered if they experienced the same magic with medicine that she did. She continues to admire the medical profession, though from a much more critical perspective than she had as a child. Her desire to become a doctor is shaped by the need she sees for good medical care in underserved areas like the Brooklyn community where she now lives. She is driven to provide preventative medicine so that many of the diseases which are chronic in black communities can be diagnosed and cured.

She is also intensely engaged with her research and wants to become a medical scientist, focusing on cancers of the reproductive system. At Hunter she majored in biology and minored in chemistry, and she was a peer counselor and a scholar in the Minority Access to Research Careers program. She conducted research in virology in the clinical trials unit of Mount Sinai Medical School, and she participated in a prestigious summer program at the Marine Biology Laboratories in Wood’s Hole, Massachussetts. She has coauthored a paper to be submitted for publication, and she has won numerous awards. She will attend the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Chirag N. Shah
City College
Woodside, NY

In his English Composition class at City College, Chirag Shah wrote an essay about his grandfather, who was a physician. He was in fact the only physician in the small village where Chirag grew up in western India, and Chirag recalled how he had spent his childhood accompanying his grandfather on his rounds, watching him take care of his patients as if they were family.

The experience of writing the essay reminded Chirag of the inspiration he got from his grandfather’s work, and he decided to volunteer at Bellevue Hospital’s emergency room. There, he talked with people before and after they underwent difficult procedures, comforting his own patients much as his grandfather had comforted his. Chirag joined the premedical society at City College and declared biology his major. He won many awards, including a Baermann Scholarship, a Kaplan Scholarship, a Mage Scholarship, and the Zemansky Introductory Physics Award. Through the Hughes Research Program, he participated in a study at the University of Chicago, and he presented his research at a recent MARC conference in New Orleans. He is a tutor for students in the CUNY Sophie Davis Medical School, and he continues to volunteer at several hospitals. He will attend SUNY’s Health Science Center at Brooklyn.

Malgorzata Teklinski-Moroz
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, NY

Growing up in Poland, Malgorzata Teklinski-Moroz lived in a small village that was beset by poverty but also enlivened by a sense of community. Although her family was struggling to make ends meet, they regularly brought provisions to the people in their village who had less than they did. Malgorzata believes her medical career originated in these trips. They are her earliest memories of the philanthropic spirit that motivates her as she strives to become a doctor.

When Malgorzata enrolled in Brooklyn College, she was inspired to learn more about the human mind. She studied psychology, but she began to crave more concrete knowledge. She found it in the neuropsychology lab at Queens College, where she is a research assistant. With the head of CUNY’s doctoral program in neuropsychology, she has studied the ways that chemical processes in the brain influence addictive behaviors. A paper that she co-authored is currently in press at the journal Brain Research, and she presented a poster at the 1997 meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. Through a year-long research project, she studied the ways in which designer peptides can attenuate obesity, and she has won many awards, including the Award for Excellence in the Study of the German Language. She will attend medical school at SUNY’s Health Science Center at Brooklyn.