CUNY Honor Students from Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island To Receive Salk Scholarships to Medical School May 29

May 29, 2001 | The University

Alizabeth Acevedo of Astoria, a determined single mother; Daniel Masri of Brooklyn, who combined passions for medicine and computer science, and David Schreiber of Staten Island, who studied the Talmud every evening in addition to science classes, will be among eight outstanding City University of New York students to be awarded Jonas E. Salk Scholarships to study medicine. Six other top students will be named Honorary Scholars. All will attend leading medical schools.

CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein and Dr. Louise Mirrer, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, will present the awards, medical diagnostic kits and medical reference books to the winners. The awards ceremony will be held at Baruch College’s Newman Conference Center, 151 East 25th Street in Manhattan on Tuesday, May 29, at 9:15 a.m.

Keynote speaker will be Dr. Rosa M. Gil, CUNY Dean for Health Sciences and former chair of the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. Other distinguished speakers will include CUNY Trustee John Morning; Dr. Arnold Melman, Chairman, Department of Urology, Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Vice Chancellor for Student Development and Enrollment Management Otis Hill; and Hunter College Pre-professional Advisor C. Howard Krukofsky.

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 stipend of $4,000 each for medical school. 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 instead for scholarships.

Salk Scholars are nominated by pre-med advisers at each college, based on the quality of research papers submitted, academic excellence, recommendations by professors and mentors, and volunteer work undertaken. The nominees must each have been accepted at a medical school. Each college may submit up to four nominations. The nominations are then evaluated and ranked by an outside medical school committee. For the past several years a committee at SUNY Downstate Medical School has taken on that task.

CUNY students who have received the scholarships, including Dr. Arnold Melman, have gone on to leadership positions in medical research and medical practice. Students are chosen based on their outstanding academic records, the quality of their research and their volunteer activities.

Bios of Salk Scholarship Winners 2001

Daniel Masri, Brooklyn
Brooklyn College

Daniel, who has wanted to become a physician since childhood, combined his passion for medicine with his talent in computer science to help conduct ground-breaking research during a summer program for pre-health students at NYU Medical Center. He set up computer programs on his own, which allowed research Professor Lian Tao to acquire more and higher quality data while running experiments devoted to the study of how the brain’s state affects light scattering in tissue in times of ischemia or stroke and other stimuli. In addition, he learned to conduct the experiments independently. Fascinated, he asked to stay for the rest of the year. At Brooklyn College, in addition to maintaining top grades, he was a member of the Brooklyn College Emergency Medical Squad, president of Hillel, a member of the intramural football league and a chemistry tutor at the Brooklyn College learning center. After graduating magna cum laude last September, he signed up to volunteer in the Beth Israel Hospital Emergency Room. He will attend SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine.

Anzhelika Listopadova, Kew Gardens, Queens
Hunter College

Born in the Republic of the Ukraine to parents who have a passion for figure skating, Anzhelika spent 13 years of her childhood preparing for a career as a figure skater, touring and competing. It taught her self-confidence, to remain calm under pressure and to work hard for her goals, all of which have stood her in good stead since coming to the United States in 1995 after graduating from high school. She enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College and took a job in a pediatrician’s office. By the time she entered Hunter College, she knew she wanted to become a doctor. Volunteering at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Pediatrics Department affirmed her goal and focused her on pediatric oncology. Interested in the causes of cancer, she took an internship at Rockefeller University where she learned molecular biological techniques studying protein interactions. Through the Hunter Linkage Program with Cornell University Medical College, she joined a research program that is focused on the molecular regulation of kidney development during embryogensis, using morphological and cell biological techniques. She wrote up the results of her second project and is the primary author of this study, submitted for publication-a highly unusual achievement for an undergraduate. She will attend SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Obi U. Osuji, Bronx
City College

Born in Nigeria, Obi’s first encounters with medicine came when he crossed his village’s red dust road to his grand-uncle’s maternity clinic as a boy and watched babies being delivered. Later he watched and asked questions for hours of the medicine man who set bones and mixed healing herbs in the village. These experiences led him to medicine and he never wavered in his goal. Moving to the United States, he graduated from high school in Chamblee, Ga.

As a student at City College, he was forced to work many hours in order to pay his tuition. Nonetheless, he volunteered at the Gold Crest Nursing Home and with NYPIRG. He did so well in his cell and molecular biology class that Professor Jerry Guyden invited Obi to join his lab, where his project involved a study of thymic nurse cell (TNC) function. In conducting experiments over several semesters, Obi showed that the dead thymocytes within the TNC cytoplasm are absorbed by lysosomes. Dr. Guyden said that “as a result of Obi’s hard work, we were able to publish a paper last year regarding these exciting findings.” A biochemistry major, Obi will graduate with Latin and biochemistry honors. He will attend the Stanford University Medical School.

Alizabeth Jenny Acevedo, Astoria, Queens
Hunter College

Alizabeth has wanted to be a physician since she worked in the social work department of the Hospital for Joint Diseases, helping in the pediatric ward. A crying baby in a cast from the waist down was comforted by her touch, and she knew she wanted to be a pediatrician. The birth of a daughter during her senior year in high school nearly stymied her. Encouraged by her father who said, “You are going to become a doctor and I know you can do it,” she focused all her efforts on bringing her dream to fruition.

Alizabeth received fellowships from the National Institute of Health’s Minority Access to Research Careers and the Minority Biomedical Research Support Programs, as well as the Lowrider Scholarship for Outstanding Latinas, among her many honors. Last summer she received an Undergraduate Research Fellowship from Mount Sinai School of Medicine and will work there again this summer. Her research has been on the dopamine neuron system, both in adulthood and the embryonic stages of development, and she is the co-author of two research papers. In addition to earning top grades while at Hunter College, she also became certified as an Emergency Medical Technician and worked as a member of the Jackson Heights Volunteer Ambulance Corps. Graduating in June with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry–the first in her family to graduate from college–she will attend Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Melissa C. Donaire, Rockville, Md.
Brooklyn College

Melissa’s physician-mother, who provided care to all regardless of ability to pay, was her first inspiration. The medical resident who diagnosed her brother’s mysterious ailment was another.
But her frustration at not being able to help more during her mother’s and grandmother’s illnesses strengthened her desire to be a physician and to help others.

Last February she contributed her efforts to a medical mission in the Philippines where doctors volunteered their medical services to impoverished patients. She was moved by the humanity and generosity of the physicians who joined the mission and realized the need for more minority physicians to act as role models. While at Brooklyn College, she was an Alliance for Minority Participation in Science and Engineering Scholar, among her many honors and participated in a Summer Minority Medical Education Program at Yale University School of Medicine. Since graduating from Brooklyn College two years ago with a major in psychology, she has worked at the National Institute of Mental Health on a Pre-Doctoral Intramural Research Training Fellowship. Melissa will attend Temple University School of Medicine.

Opeyemi Olabisi, Bronx
City College

When Opeyemi was growing up in a semi-urban town in Nigeria, health care was reserved for the influential, and balanced nutrition was enjoyed only by those with robust resources, he recalls. His best friends and classmates suffered and died from diseases such as cholera, meningitis and tuberculosis, which are almost nonexistant in the U.S. His father was a nurse and the family was poor. When Ope arrived in the U.S. at age 19 in 1996, he hungered to learn more about disease and how it affects the proper function of the human body. At City College, his interaction with and observation of medical doctors at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx, and his experience as a research assistant in the neuroscience research lab of Dr. Patricia Broderick at the CUNY Medical School strengthened his conviction that he wanted to be a physician-scientist. As a MARC (Minority Access to Research Career) Scholar in Dr. Broderick’s lab he used microelectrodes to study temporal lob epilepsy and he will be co-author with his mentor on a peer-reviewed major manuscript on epilepsy. His honors research paper titled “Can Cocaine Addiction be Medically Treated with Antipsychotic Drugs?” was submitted for presentation and publication in abstract form at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego in November.

At City College, Ope has been president of the Bioscience Club, a biology tutor, chemistry workshop leader and a striker on the men’s volleyball team. His many honors include the Arthur Ashe Jr. Award for outstanding academic and athletic achievement. He will attend the M.D./Ph.D. program at Albert Einstein Medical College.

David Schreiber, Staten Island
College of Staten Island

Two experiences influenced David’s decision to be a physician. One was his grandfather’s emotional response to the skilled and kindly care of the surgeon who performed a quadruple bypass on him.

The second was volunteering at 17 to help a burial society lay to rest an indigent woman who had no family. As her coffin was lowered into the ground he was stunned by the realization that this would be his ultimate fate. He came to understand that by giving people a new lease on life, he would gain fulfillment despite the temporary nature of his own life. A graduate of Yeshiva Tiferes Torah high school, David continued to study the Talmud every evening during his college years.
He attributes his ability to think analytically and his philosophical outlook to these religious studies. A member of the Honors College of the College of Staten Island, he carried out research in the laboratory of a faculty member to synthesize and biosynthesize peptides representing transmembrane domains of G protein-coupled receptors and to collect biophysical evidence on their secondary structures. This work was accepted for publication at a national meeting of the American Peptide Society and has been submitted in complete form to “Biochemistry,” one of the premier journals in its field. He graduated with highest honors in January and will attend SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Ronald H. Sumter, Queens Village, Queens
City College

Ronald grew up feeling “complete awe of the human body and the way it functions,” as well as amazement of its ability to heal and maintain function-a perception that may have been influenced by having a mechanical engineer father and nurse mother. Trying to decide on a career, Ronald, whose twin sister became a nurse, volunteered in a hospital and found that being able to fix an impaired body and to nurse a person back to health is a tremendous opportunity to have. The experience gave him another insight. He wanted to play an active role in a community where the majority of the people are black and the doctors, nurses and physician assistants are of the same race. At City College he was a tutor for the Pre-Med department in the SEEK Tutorial Center and for the CSTEP program. He was also a member of the Teaching Scholars Program at I.S. 184. He has volunteered at Harlem Hospital, Kings County Hospital and Downstate Medical Center. He has a Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation fellowship to work in Professor Dani L. McBeth’s microbiology lab where he helped research whether the extracts of the plant Schisandra chinensis possess potent antibacterial activity. Ronald will attend SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Bios of Honorary Winners

Nabil Abdulghani, Brooklyn
Hunter College

Nabil conducted an independent organic chemistry research project under the direction of Distinguished Professor of Chemistry Richard Franck. The project was to prepare compounds whose bond-lengths were to be determined by X-ray crystallography to provide data to prove or disprove an explanation of bond-length variation published in a recent journal. The result, Dr. Franck said, was very good data. He presented his research at the American Chemical Society’s Undergraduate Research Symposium. Interested in Web publishing, Nabil created and maintained a web site (centurion.homepad.com) as a study aid for Hunter College students. The Website is typical of his passion for helping people; he often aided other students who were struggling with concepts and techniques that came easily to him. He volunteered at New York Methodist Hospital and as a member of the Loyal Order of Moose visited nursing homes. Nabil will attend New York University School of Medicine.

Shyamal Raj Bastola, Jamaica, Queens
York College

Shyamal arrived in this country from his native Nepal at the age of 18. Though his parents had barely finished high school, they stressed the importance of education and sent him to a high school in India. His parents’ dream of sending him to the U.S. for an education came true when Shyamal won the Diversity Visas Lottery in 1997. He entered York College the same month he arrived in New York and decided his career goal was to become a doctor, having developed a great interest in science in high school. He supported himself by working two part-time jobs and achieved an extraordinary academic record while consistently taking heavy course loads.

Accepted into the Minority Biomedical Research Support program, he was invited to work in Professor of Chemistry Peter Scheiner’s organic synthesis lab on research in the synthesis of new antiviral nucleoside analogs. As a result of that research, Shyamal is coauthor of a publication dealing with the diastereoselective synthesis of Lhomolaminivudine, a potential lead compound for anti-HIV chemotherapy. He will attend SUNY at Stony Brook School of Medicine.

Cindy M. Duke, Brooklyn
City College

Growing up in Tobago, where medicine, medical practitioners and scientific research are rare, Cindy dreamt of becoming a doctor, and majored in biology, chemistry and calculus in high school. When her aunt suffered amputations and eventually died from diabetes, Cindy’s goal was to become a doctor specializing in pathology, research and the advancement of modern medicine to find answers to diseases that plague the poor. At City College she did her honors research in environmental chemistry.

Her role in the project was to investigate the sources of hydrogen sulfide odor, the sources, concentration levels and deposition patterns of PCB’s in the lower Hudson, and heavy metal accumulation in shellfish. In the summer of 1999 she was invited to participate in the Research Experience for Undergraduates in the department of chemistry at the University of Rochester, where her primary role was to investigate the partial unfolding of myoglobin using a cobalt drug. For three years she has served as a tutorial workshop leader in general chemistry and organismic biology, gaining insight into teaching at the post-secondary level. At some point in her career as a medical scientist, she believes she would like to teach. She will attend Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Faina Gurevich, Brooklyn
Hunter College

Faina came to the United States with her family in 1997 at the age of 19, a registered nurse who had studied in the nursing program at Minsk Medical College in Belarus. While there, however, she decided she really wanted the knowledge and responsibility of being a doctor. After a few months of an intensive English course she entered Hunter College. To help improve her family’s finances, she worked three or four days a week as a medical assistant in a doctor’s office soon after their arrival and continued working through college. She also volunteered to work with geriatric patients at Coney Island Hospital.

A biology major, her interests are wide, including music, theater, literature and health care reform. Her research interest is in cancer work that correlates environmental factors with health problems and abnormalities, and AIDS/HIV research. In the lab of Biological Sciences Professor Ann S. Henderson at Hunter College, Faina’s research focused on determining whether environmental electromagnetic fields (EMF) could affect cells in culture and cause tumors. There had been many studies conducted worldwide, many of which indicated the link between exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields and the high incidence of cancer. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency classified EMF as a Class B carcinogen. Faina’s results, however, showed that there is no effect of EMF exposure on culture cells and she is submitting a manuscript of her research for journal publication. She will attend Penn State College of Medicine.

Jonathan Silverberg, Brooklyn
Brooklyn College

A member of Brooklyn College’s BA/MD joint program with SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Jonathan has explored many different subjects in addition to completing the pre-medical requirements. He quickly fell in love with computer and information science, with its unlimited potential in medical research, and as its use an educational tool. He developed an online laboratory manual for a botany course, under the guidance of Professor Roy McGowan, which uses a variety of multimedia and graphical user interface design techniques. He also designed a database for medical billing and reports for the Department of Endocrinology at Maimonides Medical Center. In his personal life, his aim is to be a “Renaissance man.” He has studied the piano for ten years and plays other instruments.

He has played a variety of intramural sports and has been a peer tutor in a wide variety of math and science subjects. His true passion, however, is in the field of computer-related medical research.

Working with Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Science Theodore Raphan, his project was a blend of computer science and biological sciences. He developed software for studying the sympathetic outflow during whole body rotations. This required learning about the latest technology in signal analysis-wavelets-as well as about the role of the vestibular system in sympathetic responses. The computer implementation of the analysis, as well as the graphical rendering of the transformation is his contribution. The work promises to be an important technique in the study of domain signals, Professor Raphan said. The title of his research paper is “Implementation of Wavelet Analysis of Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity.” He will enter the M.D./Ph.D. program at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

Heidi J. Zapata, Queens Village, Queens
Queens College

Born in Nicaragua during the revolution, Heidi and her mother fled to the United States, followed a year later by her father. Her educated parents had to take the jobs no one else wanted but they persevered, setting an example for Heidi. When her adopted grandmother developed Alzheimer’s disease when Heidi was 15, the family cared for her until she died and Heidi realized the need for doctors with compassion. She also wanted to understand what was causing the disease.

At Queens College she sought out intensive science experiences by applying to the competitive summer research programs. She was selected for the NYU MARP summer research program in the Department of Medical and Molecular Parasitology. There she used recombinant bacteria to investigate trypanosomes, which cause African sleeping sickness. The following summer she was chosen for the Avon Foundation research program in the Department of Neuroscience at Cornell Weill Medical College. There she studied abnormal cells, which are more resistant than normal cells to radicals. Destructive radicals are believed to be one of the causes of many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. At Queens College, she worked with Biology Professor Uldiz Roze to study whether porcupine urine contained a certain protein and if so, how such a large protein could be filtered in the porcupine kidney. An important source of pheromones in mammals, this protein may play an important role in reproductive processes and as a territorial marker. In addition to winning honors in math and natural sciences, she has been a member of the Biology and Chemistry Honors societies, as well as a member of the Academic Senate. Her other honors include the Colwin Prize, the Queens College Women’s Club Award, two Alliance for Minority Participation awards and an award from the Chemistry Department. For two years she has participated in Project Sunshine, an organization that provides programs and services for hospitalized children with AIDS, and other life-threatening diseases. Her research interests are in biochemistry and “the interrelations and inner workings of humans, plants and animals.” She will attend Syracuse University Medical School.