Spotlight Alumni SUPERS Students
“My name is Najah Curtis, and I'm currently a first-year PhD student in Penn's PhD in Bioengineering - Medical Physics concentration program. As an undergraduate, I was a Physics major and a varsity gymnast at Penn." On Supers: "I was also a 2022 SUPERS intern. I applied to the internship because I knew it would give me a hands-on experience in Medical Physics and help solidify my decision in career paths. Throughout the summer, I was able to shadow medical physicists and learn about the research being conducted in the Department of Radiation Oncology through weekly seminars. Seeing the clinical and research aspects of Medical Physics gave me a well-rounded introduction to the field and helped me make my decision. Outside of research, the SUPERS program coordinators also made sure we had opportunities to socialize outside of the lab. They were able to organize for all the SUPERS students to go to a Phillies game at the beginning of the summer, which was extremely fun and helped all of us get to know each other better. My experience within this program has given me confidence in my decision for my career path and helped me make connections that I have been able to take with me into graduate school.”
Janet Wu is a 2018, 2019 Supers alumna who worked in the Fan Lab focusing on glioblastomas. She is passionate about brain tumor translational research, medical education, and Asian/community health. Previously, she completed a BA in Biology & Neuroscience from Oberlin College of Arts & Sciences and a BM in Piano Performance from Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where she was awarded the 2021 Oberlin Nexial Prize. On Supers: “My two summers in SUPERS helped me form a very solid foundation in biomedical, translational research. I received amazing guidance and mentorship from my PI, post-doc mentor, and Steve. Additionally, learning how to read scientific papers, present in journal clubs, and do chalk talks and oral presentations are invaluable skills that I continue to use and hone in medical school. My experience studying glioblastoma in SUPERS led me to pursue research during medical school, and I am currently a Physician Scientist Training Program student at Stanford, where I continue to conduct translational research for glioblastoma. Lastly, my SUPERS cohorts were tight-knit, and it was a lot of fun to spend those summers living in and exploring Philly with them!”
On Supers: "My summer internship with SUPERS was a transformative experience that significantly influenced my future decisions in science. It provided me with hands-on exposure to real-world scientific research, allowing me to apply the knowledge I had gained in the classroom to practical, cutting-edge projects. The mentorship from experienced scientists and the friendly environment of the lab enhanced my technical skills and broadened my perspective on scientific opportunities. The program exposed me to the intricacies of cancer treatment, where I worked on projects related to cancer therapies. Besides lab work, I interacted with leading researchers in the field, engaging in discussions and learning about the latest breakthroughs in cancer biology.
Currently, I am studying Osteosarcoma for my PhD, a commonly occurring and deadly bone malignancy that usually onsets at a young age. My summer internship shaped my decision to pursue cancer biology for my PhD, as I saw the substantial impact research and innovation could have on patients' lives. It was a pivotal moment that solidified my passion for cancer and aided me in deciding the professional endeavors I wanted to pursue." In 2022 Yogesh graduated from Berea College with a BA in Biology and Chemistry. 2021 Supers alumnus
On Supers: “Throughout the lectures and training in the SUPERS program, I learned the importance of doing hypothesis-driven science, and it catalyzed my interest in better understanding how cancer cells cope with environmental stress. Most importantly, the mentoring component of the SUPERS program was critical to finding my voice in science. I overcame the fear of being a minority in science, realizing that even though I come from a different cultural background, I was able to excel in this field. My experience at the SUPERS program solidified my interest in pursuing a biomedical research career and shaped my research interests. I recently finished my Ph.D. training in the laboratory of Alec Kimmelman at the Vilcek Institute at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.” Previously Joel graduated from University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras in 2016 with a BS in Cell and Molecular Biology. 2014, 2015 Supers alumnus
Dalia Mitchell is a third-year medical student and Master of Public Health candidate at UT Southwestern. Dalia graduated in 2020 from the University of Rochester with a B.S. in Molecular Genetics, a B.A. in Psychology, and minors in Studio Art and Chemistry and received the Dale McAdam Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching. Most recently Dalia received the MLK Scholarship Award for her essay on the importance of helping vulnerable children and families overcome systemic barriers to receive health care. 2019 Supers alumna.
Dayton McMillan attended Colorado State University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health and a Master of Science in Health Physics as an NNSA sponsored fellow. He subsequently worked at the National Cancer Institute as a Research Fellow in radiation dosimetry prior to receiving his medical doctorate from Harvard Medical School. Currently Dr. McMillan works in Developmental Healthcare at Ashler Capital in Chicago. On Supers: "SUPERS!: Was a tremendous opportunity to get together with other young students with interests in medical science, and figuring out how research and academic inquiry fit into our life plans (while having a pretty fun summer too!). Provided great perspective on the research process, and was a valuable chance to meet fun people all along the career track ranging from graduate students, post-docs, to faculty, helping us SUPERs figure out where we could possibly contribute in such a system." SUPERS 2012, 2013 alumnus.
Deborah Ajayi obtained her PhD in Experimental Pathology from Yale University in 2017. Her research explored the determinants of response to cancer therapies, why patients relapse and how to harness a patient’s immune system to prolong responses. Currently Dr. Ajayi is the Medical Director at Humancare, an IPG Health Company. On Supers: She credits her interest in cancer research and her terrific PhD experience to the training she had as a SUPERS student in 2010. She added that working with Dr. Constantinos Koumenis’ dynamic research group opened a new world of biomedical research, which she had never experienced before.
James Weltz graduated from University of Colorado Boulder with a PhD in Chemical and Biological Engineering. Currently he is the Cofounder and CSO of Cascade Biocatalysts in Boulder. Cascade Biocatalysts is creating more productive enzymes for economical biomanufacturing of sustainable chemicals. Cascade addresses the growing need for stable, long-lasting biocatalysts using our patent-pending enzyme immobilization platform. By combining nature’s catalyst, enzymes, with state-of-the-art materials, we can create something that is greater than the sum of its parts.
On Supers: "My first experience using a microscope was in the lab of Dr. Cameron Koch during my time as a SUPERS student. I was using a hemocytometer to quantify the number of cells in a suspension, and I broke the hemocytomer (sorry Cam!). I can honestly say my skills have improved since that time, thanks in part to the experience I gained at Penn." 2011 alumnus