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Six Wesley Biological Chemistry Students Earn Terminal Degrees

Posted July 14th, 2020 at 12:13pm

Six students of Wesley’s science programs recently earned a terminal degree—a Ph.D., a doctorate in pharmacy, or a doctor of dental surgery degree. They all agree that their undergraduate research opportunities and the mentorship they received at Wesley were integral to their success in further studies.

Laura Malinowski earned a degree in biological chemistry from Wesley in 2016, and this spring completed a Pharm.D. from University of Maryland, Eastern Shore. She is now working at Atlantic Apothecary in Delaware and waiting to take the pharmacy license board exam and the pharmacy law exam.

Asked which professors were most influential during her time at Wesley, Malinowski said, “Honestly, not to be cheesy, but which professor wasn’t? Wesley’s faculty were welcoming and helpful.”

Dr. Malcolm D’Souza, professor of chemistry and dean of interdisciplinary/collaborative sponsored research, was a critical mentor for all of them. He conducts original chemistry research with students, helps them focus their research and internship experiences to maximize future success and career exploration, and encourages them by his example to push themselves. He guides students in applying for scholarships and graduate school.

In December 2019 Gabriel Fernandez completed a Ph.D. in biomedical science at the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. He studied the pathogenesis of diabetes. He now works for LaCerta Therapeutics in Alachua, Florida. He earned a B.S. in biological chemistry with a minor in math at Wesley.

He points to the experience of conducting research at Wesley as integral to his graduate studies. “The kind of environment that Dr. D’Souza fosters demonstrated to me that one, I enjoy research, and two, I’m good at it, and therefore I should continue with it.”

Fernandez said, “For me, it was enlightening to see somebody who was willing to go out of their way to teach [me] and train [me]. And I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

Many Wesley students take advantage of research and internship opportunities in the network of colleges and universities in Delaware that serves as an incubator to grow the state’s biotechnology workforce and capabilities. As an undergraduate, Fernandez worked at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute, where he learned bioinformatics and RNA and DNA sequencing, which really helped shape his career.

Brett Sansbury earned a Ph.D. in molecular and medical science from the University of Delaware this spring. She worked in the Christiana Care Gene Editing Institute (GEI) to develop an in vitro system to study DNA damage repair pathways. She is now employed full-time at GEI as a junior research scientist and leader of their discovery group, which investigates applications of gene editing, including which genes are responding to COVID-19 infection.

Sansbury said that D’Souza kept encouraging her to continue her education. He introduced her to the scientist at the University of Delaware who would become her Ph.D. advisor.

“The faculty at Wesley gave me a great foundation on which to build,” Sansbury said. “I fully credit Wesley for almost all of my success.”

Jasbir Deol earned a Pharm.D. from Temple University this spring. She is now working for Acme Sav-On Pharmacy as a graduate intern until she takes and passes the licensed pharmacist certification test.

In her junior year at Wesley she was deliberating whether to apply to med schools or pharmacy schools. D’Souza helped arrange an internship with a thoracic surgeon at Christiana Care. This experience taught her that she is more interested in pharmacy than medical practice.

Alora Wilson completed two years of prerequisite classes at Wesley, then earned a Pharm.D. in three years from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. She works now as an inpatient and chemotherapy pharmacist at a hospital in Maryland.

She knew even in high school that she wanted to pursue this 2 + 3 pathway to a Pharm.D. D’Souza helped her complete the prerequisite classes to prepare for the three-year intensive pharmacy program. The chemistry research she completed at Wesley in cooperation with D’Souza was instrumental in preparing her for these studies.

Justin Collins took an opposite route through Wesley. He earned a business degree at James Madison University, then decided he would pursue a dental degree so he could take over his father’s dental practice in southern Delaware. He completed the science prerequisites for this program at Wesley, then earned a doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Maryland this spring. He is currently a resident at Monmouth Medical Center in New Jersey.

Wesley’s extensive support system for students

Most of these students received critical financial support at Wesley from one or more of these sources:

  • National Institutes of Health-Delaware INBRE program
  • National Science Foundation-Delaware EPSCoR program
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration-Delaware Space Grant program
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Delaware Sea Grant program

Several of these students also benefited from a range of programs designed to empower and engage students from low-income families and historically marginalized populations. These include:

  • a three-week Success in STEM summer program to help incoming first-year students prepare for the rigors of college-level STEM classes
  • the Cannon Scholars program, which provides tuition support, advising, and multi-tiered mentoring
  • case management for student success and retention
  • research opportunities and hands-on skills that set students apart after graduation.

These programs are all housed within Wesley’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) UR-CATS program, which aims to build a STEM-capable workforce with increased participation from women and underrepresented minorities.

The financial support that Wesley can provide is frequently a draw for students, but the opportunity to conduct meaningful research even as a first- or second-year student hooks them on the promise and prospects of Wesley.

by Joy Drohan, Eco-Write, LLC