Eight CUNY Students Awarded Salk Scholarships

April 26, 2011 | The University

Eight outstanding City University of New York students – recognized for research on subjects including DNA repair, genetics, autoimmune diseases and cancer – have been awarded Jonas E. Salk Scholarships to study in the medical field in 2011, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has announced.

The awards, among the more prestigious awarded by the University, recognize the high ability and scholarship of students who plan careers in medicine and the biological sciences and who are judged likely to make significant contributions to medicine and research. They are selected on the basis of original research papers undertaken with prominent scientist/mentors.

“I commend this year’s Salk Scholars on their commitment to academic quality and to public service, whether as physicians treating the sick and underprivileged, or as researchers working toward medical breakthroughs,” Goldstein said. “Their work exemplifies the proud legacy of Dr. Jonas E. Salk.”

Dr. Salk, a 1934 graduate of City College, developed the polio vaccine in 1955.  He turned down a ticker-tape parade in honor of his discovery, asking that the money be used for scholarships. The city provided initial funding for the Salk Scholarships in 1955.

The endowment provides a stipend of $8,000 per scholar, to be appropriated over three or four years of medical studies, to help defray medical school costs. Salk Scholars also receive achievement citations and diagnostic kits that include an otoscope and ophthalmoscope.

The 2011 Salk Scholars represent City, Hunter, Queens, York and the Macaulay Honors colleges. Two scholars were accepted to Yale University School of Medicine, one to Harvard University Graduate School, one to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, one to Baylor College of Medicine, one to George Washington University School of Medicine, one to SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Graduate Studies and one to SUNY Downstate College of Medicine.

The Salk Scholarships will be awarded at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, May 11, in the William and Anita Newman Conference Center at Baruch College, 151 E. 25th St., 7th floor.

The keynote speakers will be Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, professors in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. Dr. Himmelstein, who earned his medical degree from Columbia University, had been an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of social and community medicine at Cambridge Hospital.

Dr. Woolhandler, who earned her medical degree from Louisiana State University, had been professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, where she co-directed the general internal medicine fellowship program and practiced primary-care internal medicine at Cambridge Hospital.

In 1990-91, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation health-policy fellow at the Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Congress.

Co-founders of Physicians for a National Health Program, they co-edit the program’s newsletter and are the principal authors of program articles published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

Biographies of 2011 Salk Scholarship Winners:

Anam Ahmed

Anam Ahmed
The Macaulay Honors College at Queens College
SUNY Downstate College of Medicine

Anam, a biochemistry major with a sociology minor, has been studying DNA repair.
She constructed a yeast strain that knocked out the REV3 repair gene and added gene repeats that allowed her to measure repair by homologous recombination. Her project showed how the absence of such a gene can lead to DNA rearrangements that can cause tumors. Anam, who says that the “human body is science at its best, and I want to keep exploring it,” aspires to be a physician who works with children, possibly in the field of oncology. A teaching assistant in the Macaulay Honors College, Anam served as a mentor to incoming students and as a tutor for Beta Delta Chi, the Queens College chemistry honor society. She received the President’s Choice Award, the Chancellor’s Award, was on the Dean’s List every semester and is a member of the Golden Key Honor Society. The third-place winner of the CUNY Nobel Science Challenge, she had an undergraduate research fellowship at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Systems Biology Center. Under a study-abroad scholarship program, she spent a summer in Thailand teaching English to sixth-graders.

Deborah Ayeni
City College
Yale University School of Medicine

Deborah, a biochemistry major with a minor in math, is interested in biomedical research with a focus on cancer pharmacology.  Her project involved the use of Julia Kocienski Olefination to synthesize fluorinated alekenes that are versatile synthetic intermediates in fields such as pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals. She wants to earn a Ph.D. and plans to become a researcher who designs novel agents to treat cancer and works with pharmaceutical companies to bring drugs to developing countries. “I am eager to study and understand molecular mechanisms used by tumor cells to survive and proliferate,” she says. “This will permit the development of approaches to undermine these mechanisms.” The treasurer of the Baskerville Chemical Society at City College, Deborah received the Eber Scholarship, Zitrin Scholarship, Bernard Levine Scholarship, the City College Black Alumni Scholarship and Erek Borek Scholarship. A member of the Chi Alpha Epsilon National Honor Society and the Golden Key National Honor Society, she earned a second-place award when she presented her work at the New York CSTEP Student Statewide Conference. Deborah, a member of the City College gospel choir, is a passionate mentor and tutor who enjoys exploring new cultures and societies.

Maria Otazo

Maria Otazo
City College
Baylor College of Medicine

Maria, a biology major, has devoted her research to the study of the development of innate immune blood cells. Her research project was on the molecular and genetic characterization of l(3)hem, a classical mutation, which because of its complex genetics, possesses a molecular identity that has been difficult to assign. She mapped this larval lethal mutation in the fruit fly, using mitotic recombination and complementation analysis. “This work would be informative and potentially applicable to mammalian systems and to cancer models,” she says. Maria, originally an art major, became interested in science when her brother became ill. “While studying nudes in art school, I immediately learned to revere each model, each body, as a work of art,” she says. “All of the nudes that I drew or painted were beautiful, lithe and sturdy. All were strong. However, my brother’s body was in quite the opposite condition: weak, delicate and vulnerable.” At City College, she became captivated by genetics. Maria, the winner of the 2009 Professor Joseph Grossfield Award, was on the Dean’s List for three years. Her interests include painting, drawing, playing classical piano and reading about ethnobotany.

Sonam Sani

Sonam Sani
The Macaulay Honors College at Queens College
George Washington University School of Medicine

Sonam, a neuroscience major with a minor in sociology, has focused her research on autoimmune diseases. Her research project studied the effect of peripheral antagonism of the neuropeptide Y1 receptor on anxiety levels and peripheral organ inflammation during sympathetic hyperactivity. “Medicine is the one field that combines all of my interests,” she says. “It combines my love of science and problem solving while at the same time allows me to play a really interactive and direct role in improving people’s quality of life.” Her interest in neuroscience started at the end of her senior year in high school, and it was while she was volunteering in the emergency room at the New York Hospital Queens that “she felt a surge of excitement and energy and knew that this is where I wanted to be.” Sonam, a Queens College Student Ambassador and a teaching assistant at Macaulay Honors College, has been on the Dean’s List and the Presidential Achievers Honor Roll. She spent a summer in Thailand teaching students English and is an English-as-a-Second-Language conversation facilitator at her local library. She practices yoga and enjoys reading and cooking.

Dmitri Serjanov

Dmitri Serjanov
York College
SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Graduate Studies

Dmitri, a biotechnology major, has been studying pathogenesis-related mutations of human mitochondrial tRNAs and their effect on tRNase Z processing. His work has included direct involvement in DNA-based construction, Hammerhead constructs, PCR, ligation, transformation, sequence verification, T7 transcription, enzyme efficiency and kinetics experiments. Dmitri, who has been accepted into the molecular and cell biology Ph.D. program at SUNY Downstate, wants to become an academic or industrial researcher. His love of biology began in childhood, when he studied the flora and fauna of the forested peat marshes in his native Dubna, Russia. “I became interested in why some plants and fungi were poisonous, some were not, and others could be used as remedies, why some flowered while others did not and why certain plants were flammable even when wet,” he says. Dmitri, who is on the Dean’s List, is a Distinguished Scholar.

Carolina Salguero

Carolina Salguero
Hunter College
Harvard University Graduate School, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

Carolina, who earned a double major in biochemistry and economics, focuses on applied structural biology of infectious diseases such as HIV, Dengue fever and Lyme disease  that affect third-world countries. Her project involved the assignment of NMR spectra of an RNA stem-loop-important pre-mRNA splicing by the spliceosome with the goal of solving the structure of the stem loop. Carolina, president of the Undergraduate Affiliate Network of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, became interested in science when, at 12, she read about the Human Genome Project. She left her native Colombia right after high school and spent a decade working her way through college. Through Minority Research Access Careers, Carolina received an undergraduate fellowship funded by the National Institutes of Health and has had summer internships at Harvard and Yale. At Harvard, she used nuclear magnetic resonance to investigate the murine leukemia virus’ pseudoknot, which is an RNA motif that regulates the read-through translation mechanism critical for packaging and maturation of new viral particles. “I’m particularly interested in answering scientific questions involving structural studies that can lead to the understanding of regulatory processes, which in turn may lead to the design and development of novel treatments for infectious diseases that affect third-world countries,” she says. A Mother’s Day Scholar and on the Dean’s List, Carolina is interested in mentoring high school students and getting more minorities involved in science.

Carmen Taveras

Carmen Taveras
Hunter College
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons

Carmen, a biochemistry and biology major, is interested in cancer biology, specifically cell cycle regulation and signal transduction. Her research project focused on p53, a tumor suppressor protein whose gene is most commonly mutated in cancer, and the effect of phosphorylation at Ser15 of p53 on mRNA 3’ processing. She hopes to become a cancer biologist with her own research laboratory.  “I am highly motivated to know I will be able to elucidate and contribute to the growing body of scientific knowledge and develop new cancer therapeutics,” she says. Through the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, Carmen studied the role that DNA damage plays in the development of cancer. A MARC Scholar, she received the Stewart Reynolds Award for Excellence in Biochemistry and was on the Dean’s List. When she presented her research at the 2009 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students, she earned one of only 12 presentation awards offered in her discipline.  She enjoys reading, biking, playing soccer, traveling, listening to music and dancing.

Joshua Usani

Joshua Usani
City College
Yale University School of Medicine

Joshua, a biology major, seeks to understand how the immune system attacks the body in autoimmune diseases and to develop treatments. In his project, he used a confocal microscope to identify the distribution of lysosomes in specialized epithelial cells in the thymus. These thymic nurse cells are crucial in T-cell development. Joshua’s quest to pursue science was sparked when he watched his mother, a nurse, give vaccines to poor children in his native Nigeria. He decided on a career in medicine when, as part of an ambulance corps, he helped save a man’s life. “I resolved that if I could touch people’s lives in this very basic, yet powerful way, the satisfaction I would receive would justify all the challenges associated with the pursuit of a medical career.” The winner of a scientific award at the 2009 CSTEP conference, Joshua made the Dean’s List. A member of the Golden Key International Honor Society and Phi Eta Sigma, he served as a chemistry workshop leader. He likes to play basketball, piano and soccer and is interested in computer programming.

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