Big Wins for Biology Majors

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

MEC Biology majors Emmanuel Agyei, Asuma Jalloh, Moises Rodriguez and Jaleel Shepherd have all recently won top honors in major Science competitions.  The students exemplify MEC’s commitment to mentorship and creating a level of comfort and engagement to foster excellence.

“MEC has heavily invested in building and maintaining research capacity in the School of Science, Health and Technology and we are really seeing our students and faculty deriving the scholarly benefits,” said Mohsin Patwary, a Professor in the Department of Biology and the PI & Director of the MEC NIH-NIGMS-RISE Program. He is also the director of the MEC CUNY Research Scholar Program. MEC science students have distinguished themselves by racking up a number of major awards over the years.

Jaleel Shepherd, 21, a junior, was recognized for work in signaling pathways that enable cancer cells to survive. He presented his original research at the American Society for Microbiology's Annual Biological Research Conference for Minority Students in Phoenix, Az. earlier this month. Shepherd plans to earn both a medical degree and a doctorate in cancer biology.

The Guyana native was modest about his win, although his honor also won him a Page One mention and inclusion in an article about CUNY science winners in the Nov. 16-22, 2017 edition of “Our Time Press” newspaper.

 “I have been working so hard and I’m glad I was able to do justice to my research,” said Shepherd, who is enrolled in the RISE program, which supports minority students in the sciences.

Shepherd praised his two mentors – 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 gave credit to his lab mates, Ruth Opoku, Nadia Patterson and Vimal Arora. MEC has both pushed him and made him comfortable, he said.

Jalloh and Rodriguez won top awards in October at the 20th annual research symposium at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). 

Jalloh, the mother of a young daughter and the day vice-president for the Student Government Association, came to Brooklyn from Sierra Leone in 2012 and will graduate in 2018. Her research focuses on understanding how memory is formed, a piece in the Alzheimer’s puzzle, she said.

“I feel like I’m participating in bettering the human condition,” said Jalloh, a RISE student who had been working on her project for two years. She wants to be a physician and a research scientist.  Her mentor at MEC has been Dr. Dereck Skeete, an environmental scientist.  She also conducted research with her mentor Alejandro Ivan Hernandez at SUNY Downstate Medical Center.

“Medgar is huge – it helped transform me into a better student and a better human being,” Jalloh said. “When I came here I was pregnant. I got married really young. They were the only school that accepted me.  They maximized my potential by providing resources and connections that cared.”


Rodriguez, 20, an “upper sophomore” who has a daily four-hour roundtrip commute to MEC from the Bronx, researches the role of a receptor called “RAGE” in the brain. He focuses on a cell called microglia that produces anti and pro inflammatory proteins.

The research has implications for the brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Rodriguez is enrolled in both the SEEK program and the RISE program. “If not for RISE I would not have the financial support to do the research,” he said, “and if not for SEEK I could not stay in school and get a book stipend, financial aid, tutoring and advisement.”

Agyei, 27, is a senior who plans to study neurology. He conducted research as part of the Summer 2017 Research Initiative supported by the Carnegie Corporation. He won for his research project at the Metropolitan Association of College and University Professors Annual Conference in Jersey City, N.J. in late October.

Agyei and his coauthors, Kingsborough Community College student Rafael Santos and Connecticut High School student Elvin Griffith, Jr., won the top prize in their category. Biology Professors Margaret Carroll and Edward Catapane served as MEC faculty mentors.

The Agyei team explored the use of Taurine (an amino acid) in treating the disease Magnesium, which is overexposure to manganese (a heavy metal). While maganese is a needed nutrient it can also cause a disease similar to Parkinson’s.

Agyei immigrated to the U.S from Ghana 10 years ago and works part-time as a promotional marketer.

 “Most of the time you work by yourself,” he said, “but if you reach out to faculty they are always there.”