Thomas Nelson Student in VCU Internship Wins Award

June 7, 2018
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Jacqueline Ninkundiye, a Thomas Nelson student and second-year intern in Virginia Commonwealth University's (VCU) Bridges to Baccalaureate: Dream to Goal summer research program, showed she’s well beyond her years in the academic sense.

Displaying a poster highlighting knowledge from her first VCU summer research experience, she won Best Student Presentation in Medical Sciences at the Virginia Academy of Sciences (VAS) annual meeting. Ninkundiye's winning poster explored the impact of chronic adolescent stress on the adult stress response.

She was surprised her entry placed first.

“I wasn’t expecting it because there were graduate students,” she said. “There were a lot of students from all over Virginia. ... They had amazing research. I didn’t think I’d win.”

Ninkundiye, who is slated to graduate from Thomas Nelson in December, said she was informed via email.

“I freaked out. I started jumping around,” she said. “I was very shocked.”

The VAS competition took place May 23-25 at Longwood University.

Ninkundiye is a social science student interested in pursuing a bachelor's degree in neuroscience upon completing her Thomas Nelson studies. She ultimately plans to earn a master’s degree and certification as an occupational therapist. She hopes to attend VCU starting spring semester.

Her mentors have high praise for her.

Molly Hyer, Ph.D, a VCU professor as well as an Institutional Research and Academic Career Development Awards (IRACDA) Postdoctoral Fellow, said, "One of her greatest strengths is her enthusiasm for the scientific story. She is quite gifted at pulling together research findings and incorporating them into the bigger picture of the field of neuroscience. Even students who are well into their graduate careers struggle with telling their scientific story, and Jacquie, despite being at the very beginning of her career, does it naturally."

Hyer said that is one reason Ninkundiye's future is so bright. 

"Her ability to share her excitement about her project in a confident and compelling manner is a testament to her dedication and future potential as a scientist,” Hyer said. 

Said VCU professor Gretchen Neigh, another of Ninkundiye’s research mentors: “She’s been an outstanding member of the group.”

Funded by a five-year $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, VCU Bridges to the Baccalaureate aims to increase the number of students from underrepresented groups who pursue careers in biomedical and behavioral research careers. 

Karen Kester and Jennifer Stewart, associate professors in VCU's Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, along with Thomas Nelson Associate Professor of Biology Martin Zahn, were awarded the grant. John Tyler Community College also partnered in the effort with Shijian Chu, associate professor of biology, among co-principal investigators on the grant.