Twenty students from seven CUNY campuses won honors for presentations of their original research at the American Society for Microbiology’s Annual Biological Research Conference for Minority Students. More than1,800 students presented their research and some 300 received awards for their oral or poster presentations to the 4,300 students who attended the event, which was held Nov. 1-4 in Phoenix.

“The breadth of undergraduate research at CUNY that was recognized at this national conference – from cancer biology to neuroscience to social and behavioral sciences and beyond – shows the vitality of CUNY’s efforts to engage minority students in fields where they have not traditionally been found,” said Chancellor James B. Milliken. “This is just one way that The City University of New York helps so many of our students follow their dreams and launch rewarding careers.”

Irene Hulede, manager of student programs at the American Society for Microbiology, said the research and presentations build students’ confidence and help propel them “from one level to the next, with the next logical step being graduate school and a Ph.D. in the STEM fields” of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “They also attend professional development workshops, where we provide them with resources needed to be successful in graduate school. They talk with leaders in the field and receive a lot of mentoring and one-on-one coaching.”

CUNY’s winners included seven from Hunter College, six from City College, two each from Brooklyn College and Queensborough Community College, and one each from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Kingsborough Community College and Medgar Evers College. There were five winners in cancer biology; three in cell biology; three in social and behavioral sciences and public health; two in neuroscience; and one each in chemistry, developmental biology and genetics, engineering, physics and mathematics, immunology, microbiology and physiology.

For City College senior Geneva Hidalgo, the conference meant an anxiety-laced 15 minutes of lecture and Q&A. “Last year I did a poster. This year I wanted the challenge of oral presentation,” she said. “You have to know your research really well and prepare for questions from people who don’t know anything about your research.”

Working with City College assistant psychology professor Sarah O’Neill, she analyzed parent- and teacher-provided data on children who have symptoms that typically develop in youngsters who are later diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); the data were collected by professor Jeffrey Halperin’s lab at Queens College. Hidalgo wanted to see whether the apparent link between ADHD and obesity in adolescents and adults held true for children.

“Our study was the first to compare the body mass indexes of preschoolers at age 4 and at age 7,” she said. She found no significant association between body mass index and neuropsychological deficits, like processing speed and executive function (the mental skills that let you do things), but did note a significant association in preschoolers showing inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity.

Now in her third year in the National Institutes of Health-funded Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program, Hidalgo intends to seek a post-graduation National Institute of Mental Health fellowship before applying for a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology.

Queensborough Community College spring 2017 graduate Rawlric Sumner won for a poster presentation in chemistry that demonstrated a way of optimizing a type of photovoltaic solar cell that is dye-sensitized; his method uses ionic liquids with single-walled carbon nanotubes as electrolytes. He now studies chemistry at Queens College, with his eyes set on an eventual Ph.D.

Sumner credits his Queensborough mentors – professors Tirandai Hemraj-Benny and Sharon Lall-Ramnarine – as well as senior chemist James Wishart at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he continued this research last summer. He said they guided him on “matters pertaining to academics, personal issues and even planning for my future. All of my current and future success can be attributed to the foundation established through my undergraduate research experience and the mentorship by these outstanding individuals. It has given me ambition and a strong work ethic while looking toward my future.”

At Medgar Evers College, junior Jaleel Shepherd, who immigrated from Guyana six years ago, was recognized for work in signaling pathways that enable cancer cells to survive. His poster described the three-dimensional structure of ACK (a protein kinase, or enzyme that modifies other proteins by chemically adding phosphate groups) and how he screened for specific cancer inhibitors and showed their effects on cancer cells.

Shepherd praised his two mentors at Medgar Evers – biology professors Alam Nur-E-Kamal and Ijaz Ahmed – and Raj Rajnaraynan, a pharmacology and toxicology professor at the University of Buffalo, where he conducted research last summer. He also insisted that credit is due to his lab mates, Ruth Opoku, Nadia Patterson and Vimal Arora, who contributed scholarship and support. He said Medgar Evers pushed him to think, to explore and to ask questions. “I’m interested in the underlying specifics of diseases. I’d like to find cures and not just for cancer. Ever since I was young I’ve wanted to understand how things work, for the purpose of helping others.”

Here are all the winners:

 2017 Presentation Awardees at

Annual Biological Research Conference for Minority Students

Brooklyn College Sierra Louis-Gene Junior Developmental Biology and Genetics Poster
Brooklyn College Janai Williams Senior Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Health Poster
City College of New York Geneva Hidalgo Senior Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Health Oral
City College of New York Mariya Mayer Senior Cancer Biology Poster
City College of New York Courtney Ogando Junior Cell Biology Poster
City College of New York Kailey Singh Sophomore Physiology Oral
City College of New York Fathema Uddin Senior Cell Biology Poster
City College of New York Jacqueline Weng Sophomore Social and Behavioral Sciences and Public Health Poster
Hunter College Camille Derderian Senior Cancer Biology Oral
Hunter College Rochel Hecht Senior Engineering, Physics and Mathematics Poster
Hunter College Marysol Finkenberg Senior Chemistry Poster
Hunter College Tiffany Merlinsky Junior Cancer Biology Oral
Hunter College Micaela Millan Sophomore Cell Biology Poster
Hunter College Stephanie Tepan Senior Cancer Biology Poster
Hunter College Olga Vafaeva Senior Neuroscience Oral
John Jay College Dee-Anne Cush Senior Immunology Poster
Kingsborough Community College Hakim Thomas Community College Student Microbiology Poster
Medgar Evers College Jaleel Shepherd Junior Cancer Biology Poster
Queensborough Community Gabriel Palencia Serna Community College Student Neuroscience Poster
Queensborough Community College Rawlric Sumner Community College Student Chemistry Poster


The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the CUNY School of Professional Studies.