Thomas Nelson Well-Represented at NIH Program | Thomas Nelson Community College

Thomas Nelson Well-Represented at NIH Program

June 25, 2021
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Elizabeth Yimer (left) and Teruyo Seta-Davis will be spend much of their summer doing lab work at VCU.

Three recent Thomas Nelson graduates were awarded summer internships sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Biology professor Jennifer Martin, however, said the opportunity they have been given extends far beyond that.

“I hate to even say the word ‘internship.’ It’s more a research apprenticeship,” she said. “They’re learning how to and then actually doing science, research science. … They’re doing some interesting stuff. They’re not just washing test tubes. My first science job was washing test tubes, and they’re way ahead of me.”

The alums – Ftoun Alhmadi, Teruyo Seta-Davis and Elizabeth Yimer – are participating in an eight-week program at Virginia Commonwealth University as part of the Dream-To-Goal Summer Research Program. The first three weeks are described as a biology boot camp, where students learn basic lab skills. That is followed by five weeks of biomedical research with a mentor in a lab.

“They’re doing next-level, professional, publishable research with their two-year degree, that’s impressive,” Martin said.

Seta-Davis, who will be attending the University of Virginia in the fall for biology, is interested in pathology and breast cancer research so she was assigned to a lab that involves both.

“I test one drug with another drug to see what kind of combination works the best,” she said.

She was drawn to the internship “because it was beginner-friendly. I have no lab experience but I just wanted to see what it feels like to work in a lab. It was a perfect environment.”

After she earns her bachelor’s degree from U.Va., Seta-Davis wants to continue on to graduate work, but she’s not sure where or in what subject. She’s using this internship to help figure that out.

Yimer, who will continue her undergraduate work at VCU, is interested in brains and inflammation because she suffered a traumatic brain injury a few years ago. She has been assigned to a lab that is doing research on multiple sclerosis.

“This lab focuses on the inflammation of the brain,” said Yimer, who noted she was in the second week of the full lab work.

As with Seta-Davis, Yimer is using the internship to help decide on a career path.

“I wanted to see more about and explore more of neurobiology,” she said.

As a VCU student, Yimer has an advantage. While all students in the internship have the option of returning for a second summer, Yimer also can work in the lab throughout the academic year. It’s something she hopes to do.

“I have to figure out how I can do that,” she said.

In addition to Seta-Davis, Yimer and Alhmadi, the College is represented by another alum, according to Martin. Alanda Thomas, who transferred to VCU for the fall 2020 semester, is in her second year of the program. 

“These students are, without a doubt, stellar and unbelievably impressive on a multitude of fronts,” Martin said. “TNCC will be proud to have them as alumni and to represent us as they move forward in their education and career paths.”

Martin added the success of Thomas Nelson students says a lot about the College.

“The fact we’re getting the freedom and the support to seek these external grants is certainly a very good thing,” she said. “But also that we’re getting students interested in science, and that they’re pursuing it as a career choice. We’re definitely doing things right in the classroom, as well.”

This particular grant is a collaboration among VCU, Thomas Nelson and John Tyler Community College.

“The goals of this competitive program are to recruit, engage and retain highly motivated students from underrepresented groups in the biomedical sciences and STEM fields in general,” Martin said. 

Martin, who usually is one of the program’s instructors, has been impressed with the Thomas Nelson students, particularly their determination.

“It takes some initiative and some true interest to even begin to think about going through a program like this,” she said. “They (are) all just very determined students.”

Yimer, who is from Yorktown and graduated from Grafton High School, encourages others to try to take advantage of opportunities such as this, especially those who are undecided on a career path or need experience.

“It has opened my eyes to a lot of different things, things that I like, things that I don’t like about lab and research,” she said.