• Niasha A. Fray, MA, MSPH


On Tuesday, October 25, a group of nine exceptional Northampton County High School students rose very early to greet a day of adventure and opportunity at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham. They boarded a bus with Gregory B. Davis Foundation Board member, Dr. Maurice Davis, and Northampton County High School’s own Mrs. Parnell in order to tour their future possibilities as college students in the Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise (BRITE) program at NCCU. For many of them a career in pharmaceutical sciences, STEM, and scientific research had not crossed their mind as an option, but this trip would give them something to think about.

After a two hour journey these students arrived and were greeted by the BRITE program representative, who ushered them to a warm continental breakfast and then to a lab. In this lab was Mrs. Betty Brown, fully dressed in a lab coat and the warmth of a seasoned scholar ready to pierce the young minds of tomorrow (shown below). She directed the students to cover their clothes with a smock, take a seat, and open their minds to the possibilities of beginning their academic career in pharmaceutical sciences. She asked each of them of their anticipated college plans for a degree major and the students responded with the likes of: history teacher, genetic counselor, and psychologist. Mrs. Brown was pleased to then share with them the many opportunities at NCCU to expand their options to include a bachelors, masters, or even PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences at BRITE. She shared with them the many scholarship options that NCCU BRITE offers students at both admission and through the matriculation process toward their degree. She finally left them with ideas about job security and their earning potential if they were to choose NCCU BRITE as their future academic home.

Once Mrs. Brown got their attention, she opened up a lab exercise to help them understand what types of exciting things pharmaceutical science graduates do in the field. As many of us have become entrenched in the modern day, “Who dunnit?” TV series, such as Law & Order and Criminal Minds we know all too well the intrigue of forensic scientists who are presented with genetic material from the scene of a crime and how that gets turned into a burden of proof for some poor unfortunate soul. Well during this exciting lab exercise Mrs. Brown and Dr. Carla Oldham set the scenario of a crime and shared with the students two different sets of genetic material that they would analyze in order to reveal who committed the crime. Dr. Oldham’s passion, aside from developing drugs to better manage Alzheimer’s disease, for STEM education and Community Outreach shown on her face as she warmly passed around each set of genetic materials in their vials and demonstrated to students how to use each instrument at their lab station. As the students waited patiently for the results of their tests another exceptional opportunity awaited them.

All nine students were escorted by Senior Scientist, Nailya Gilyazova, to meet with a Doctoral student in her lab where she was studying breast cancer cells to discover new ground breaking treatments. As the students gazed around the white room and watched scientist move about carefully with haste from one station to another, the Doctoral student began to give them a peek into her world of pharmaceutical science and all the potential of her field of research and potential life changing breakthroughs awaiting her in her career. After this engaging discussion they went on to meet Senior Scientist Chiu-Yeuh Hung. Scientist Hung discussed plant biology with them and how plants, such as tobacco, can be used as cost effective and sustainable means to produce drugs like insulin. Scientist Hung even shared how her career in botany and genetics landed her at NASA to discover how plants can be cultivated in outer space. But before she ended her exuberant presentation she pointed to a plant in her window that had been used to cultivate a drug to combat the Zika virus. All of these presentations got the students engaged asking and answering tough questions posed by each scientist. Now they had to answer the question initially posed to them, “Who dunnit?”

As they returned to the lab, their samples had completed their processing and Mrs. Brown and Dr. Oldham revealed to them how to read the genetic evidence: bars and lines, thick and slim, until they discovered who the culprit was. Their time at BRITE had come to an end, but their time at NCCU was only winding down. As the students walked across the campus to the cafeteria, they started to laugh, reflect and await their next adventure. While enjoying a plentiful buffet lunch in the student cafeteria they began to discuss all of the other college campuses they had been to so far, how NCCU stacked up, whether they might consider changing their career aspirations, and simply pondering how bright and how far their future could be. As Dr. Maurice Davis and Ms. Parnell engaged in this conversation with the students, we knew we had planted a seed of hope into the lives of nine bright, passionate, dedicated, fun-loving, and determined youth. After lunch, they visited the Campus Bookstore before departing back to Northampton County.

This activity was a collaboration between the Gregory B. Davis Foundation, The Rotary Club of Roanoke Rapids and the Northampton County High School. For more information about GBDF, visit www.gbdf.org.

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