Aarion Romany, an international student from Trinidad and Tobago, a senior majoring in chemistry and minoring in marketing, found it challenging to find a research program that would accept an international student. After applying to several programs, Romany was accepted for the summer undergraduate research fellowship program offered by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
“There I was assigned a mentor who was a funded principal investigator,” Romany said. “The lab I joined studies a protein called human DNA helicase B (HELB). It is a protein that is involved in repairing our DNA as it’s damaged.”
Although this was his second internship, Romany said it was the first time he had conducted research at an R01 institution, one that receives large research grants from the National Institutes of Health. Romany said that the internship “was a wonderful experience” and that he plans to go to graduate school.
Romany advised other international students who are looking for research internships not to give up or to “limit the scope of where you look for research opportunities.” He encouraged exploring possibilities throughout the United States because that’s what led him to Arkansas, but he said the best place to start is at Caldwell University’s independent undergraduate research program. “Through this program I was prepared for conducting research, troubleshooting, thinking, and even giving presentations,” he said.
Recent graduate Favour Garuba is the recipient of a fellowship from the prestigious honor society Phi Kappa Phi. PKP awards the grants to members who are starting their first year of graduate or professional study. Garuba, who received her bachelor’s in health sciences May 19, will be entering Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis in the fall on a full scholarship.
Garuba was active in community service during her undergraduate years including spearheading the Phi Kappa Phi book drive for Autism Awareness month in April where students collected over 300 books for The Learning Center for Exceptional Children in Clifton, New Jersey.
She was thrilled when she found out that she was selected for fellowship. “Once I read the email, I felt grateful, honored, and humbled,” and she felt like a load was lifted off her shoulders, “All I could really say was ‘thank God.’”
Lynne Alleger, associate faculty member in the Academic Success Center and president of Caldwell’s chapter of PKP, worked closely with Garuba on the project. “Even with mid-terms looming and graduation quickly approaching, Favour was always ready and willing to meet, make suggestions, and coordinate with our book drive recipient.”
Alleger is also proud of the other student leaders, Chennelle Lawrence, Roksana Korbi and Anwar Khalil for “their diligence in getting the book drive off the ground in a very short period of time and securing a very grateful recipient…all of the young women were more than motivated to meet with me and get the ball rolling on our agendas.”
Garuba, an international student from Nigeria, is grateful to the Phi Kappa Phi Chapter at Caldwell for nominating her, to the professors in the Natural Sciences Department who wrote recommendation letters and to “the countless other individuals” at Caldwell who helped her achieve her goals. She is looking forward to starting her medical studies so she can use her gifts to help those in need. “I would like to dedicate my services as a physician and researcher to improve health in a way that reaches every community, including those in disadvantaged areas.”
Watch News 12 New Jersey’s feature with Favour as Viewer of the Day. Watch it here.
Keith Kyewalabye, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in music, who is an international student hailing from Uganda, also had difficulty finding research opportunities.
Over two summers, Kyewalabye applied to more than 40 programs and finally was accepted to two for the summer. He chose the summer undergraduate research program held at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas.
“I was doing cancer research. More specifically, the project I was working on was helping to understand this gene called ATM,” he said. “I was studying the effects of a mutation on this gene [and] its expression.”
ATM, or ataxia telangiectasia-mutated, plays an important role in fixing damaged DNA by releasing a protein to repair mutations. However, Kyewalabye explained that some cancers might mutate the gene, causing it to release a “defunct protein” that cannot repair DNA well. The Food and Drug Administration, he noted, has approved drugs that target the mutated ATM, shutting down its ability to repair cancerous DNA, thus causing the cancer to die.
Kyewalabye said some people who have the mutated ATM gene, and who are expected to respond well to the medication, do not respond as anticipated, because not all mutated ATM genes produce a defunct protein.
“I was trying to understand what types of mutations result in defunct proteins and what types of mutations leave proteins working.”
Kyewalabye found his internship experience insightful, and he realized that one can work in a clinical setting and in research. He hopes to become a neurosurgeon and is considering applying to M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
Kofi Mireku, a senior, also conducted his research at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus as part of the cancer research summer fellowship program at the campus’s Cancer Center.
Under the supervision of Dr. Medhi Fini, a doctor-researcher and assistant professor at the Anschutz Medical Campus Center of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Diseases, Mireku conducted his research in the field of breast cancer.
“We began a pilot study on xanthine oxidoreductase and ROS [reactive oxygen species] tolerance on E0771 breast cancer cells,” Mireku said.
Before this experience, Mireku had never worked with animals or on in vivo techniques. Inoculating the mammary glands of premenopausal and postmenopausal mice with the E0771 breast cancer cells, Mireku measured for tumor growth in both groups.
While collecting data, however, he and Fini accidentally found that the genes that code for XOR—an enzyme that generates ROS, a molecule believed to encourage cancer growth—appeared to have been removed from the tumor growth in postmenopausal mice.
This led Fini and Mireku to hypothesize that XOR plays a significant role in controlling the function of fibroblasts found in the breast.
Though the research is ongoing, Mireku said he finished the first phase and shared his data with the academic community in a poster presentation on campus.
Thanks to this internship, Mireku said he fulfilled his goal of understanding the dynamics of being both a medical professional and a researcher, which cemented his conviction to pursue a career in medicine. He was also able to network with other professionals, which led him to another opportunity over the summer that exposed him to clinical experiences.
Right across the street from where Kyewalabye was conducting his research, Ngima Sherpa, a biology and chemistry major who is set to graduate in December 2019, was conducting her research as part of the summer biomedical research internship or SMART program at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston.
“I did not know her before, but a mutual friend of ours told me she was in Houston as well, working in a hospital across the street from me, and we eventually got into contact and connected over the summer,” Kyewalabye said.
“We bonded quickly,” Sherpa said. “It was really nice to meet someone from home in a new town.”
During her nine weeks at BCM, Sherpa worked at the Center for Drug Discovery in the lab of Dr. Dr. Nihan Ucisik and Dr. Martin Matzuk.
“I was new to the lab’s research area of drug repurposing through computational chemistry, given my previous background in biological research, but my mentors were very instrumental in helping me learn the concepts of computational chemistry and different cheminformatic techniques,” Sherpa said.
BCM “is an incredible hub for cutting-edge scientific research, providing the perfect environment for thriving young scientists,” she said. Because of her research experience, Sherpa decided to pursue a Ph.D. She will be giving a presentation on her research in Hawaii this fall.
Most people in Drammen, Norway, have never heard of Caldwell, New Jersey. And vice versa. But at the Ernst & Young offices in this port and river city in eastern Norway, a young professional carries with him the foundation he was given in the business classes at Caldwell University. Alumnus Ole-Anders Wendelborg ’18 has been an auditor at the big four accounting firm for the past year.
Leveraging his undergraduate degree in business and his MBA, he has worked closely with partners at E&Y locations in Norway, helped managers with clients overseas and locally, provided translation and assisted co-workers with information on international laws and regulations. “I cannot thank the Business School at Caldwell enough. Being the only new employee with an international degree gave me certain advantages,” said Wendelborg. “I came into work well prepared, organized and excited to start.”
Wendelborg credits Caldwell Professor Alvin Neiman’s accounting classes for sparking his interest in accounting and auditing as a career path. In Professor Virginia Rich’s courses, he learned “business lingo” and “how to approach clients and co-workers in a professional manner.” Professor Bernie O’Rourke’s integrated strategic management seminar gave him hands-on experience to learn the ways businesses operate and develop during changing times and trends. The small classes, led by professors who “push you further academically,” said Wendelborg, encouraged and supported participation from students.
A native of Drammen, Wendelborg transferred to Caldwell in his sophomore year and played on the men’s soccer team for three years. He was happy that there were direct flights from Newark to Oslo, which is 40 minutes from Drammen. That made visits from family and friends doable, and he was able to get home a few times a year.
As an international student, Wendelborg felt welcomed by the campus community, and he cherishes the friends he made at Caldwell. “We’re all like a big family. I still stay in touch with several of my old teammates and roommates. We meet up regularly, and I’ve already planned several trips for the coming fall.” He would like his fellow Caldwell alums to experience Norway’s unique landscapes, cuisine, attractions and culture. “You can, in the span of 15 minutes, go from a fairly large modern city like Oslo to the wilderness. I enjoy skiing and we offer some of the best slopes around.”
Wendelborg plans to keep growing professionally in Ernst and Young, and perhaps “one day I’ll be able to work in the United States for some time,” he said.
As an alum, he knows that the journey he made halfway around the world for his education is already proving to be a foundation for professional success. “I have landed a great job, which has opened several doors for the future.”
Fellow senior Shreyoshi Hossain, a biology major minoring in chemistry and business, participated in a summer internship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island where she worked on a computational biology project.
“I was quite nervous for a couple of reasons, firstly because this was the first time I would be working with a programming language and second because I would be working in the institution ranked number one in academic research worldwide by the scientific journal Nature,” Hossain said.
Luckily, with the support of her mentor, Dr. Hannah Meyer, Hossain was encouraged to learn through trial and error, and by the end of her internship she had mastered a new programming language called R, written a 20-page paper titled “Literature Mining for Human Pathogens” and presented her research to experienced scientists.
“Although it was an intense few weeks, I am so grateful for the experience,” Hossain said.
In addition to conducting research during their internships, students attended seminars where they met professional researchers and learned about their fields. In some cases, they had an opportunity to shadow physicians.
Among the other students doing research this summer were Amelia Biswas, who worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Prasad Gyawali, who interned at the Henry E. Riggs School of Applied Life Sciences at the Keck Graduate Institute in California as part of the Bioprocessing Summer Undergraduate Internship Training and Education Program.