Diversity programs support student research


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A. Sue Weisler

Christian Gordillo, left, and Enock Nterkereze, say summer programs were valuable to their research.

Enock Ntekereze, a Burundian refugee from East Africa who came to Rochester at age 13, is doing research on extremist groups attempting to radicalize youth in his homeland.

Christian Gordillo, a first-generation American from Queens, N.Y., wants to become a medical doctor and has been researching targeted molecular imaging agents (TMIA) to detect early stages of prostate cancer.

Ntekereze and Gordillo spent eight weeks this summer conducting intensive research as members of the McNair Scholars and the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) programs offered by RIT’s Office for Diversity and Inclusion.

“I wanted to go to grad school for international development because my goal is to help improve the economy in Africa,” said Ntekereze, who is majoring in international and global studies. “Once you are a McNair Scholar, you are one for life—and it offers African American and underrepresented students like myself the opportunity to pursue advanced degrees including doctoral studies.”

Gordillo said the LSAMP program at RIT is similar to the McNair Scholars Program in which students from underrepresented populations enrolled in STEM fields receive support and funding for their research.

“Since the summer, I’ve continued my research on TMIA’s in testing them on two different prostate cell lines and a lung adenocarcinoma cell line,” said Gordillo, a fourth-year biotechnology and molecular bioscience major. “With much help and gratitude to Dr. Irene Evans and Dr. Hans Schmitthenner, and especially the LSAMP program and my research team, I will be able to present my research at the American Society for Cell Biology Conference in San Diego in December.”

Tomicka Wagstaff, senior director for RIT’s Academic Access and Support Grants, oversees the McNair and LSAMP programs, which collectively have a current enrollment of 169 students.

“For Enock and Christian, the summer programs have been valuable—giving them a sense of confidence and also an alignment, motivation and allegiance to their major and college experience,” Wagstaff said. “Our goal is to get them entrenched in their work, with hands-on experience so they can experience success and know they can really make a difference.”

Ntekereze recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to train as a campus organizer for the Enough Project, a not-for-profit that conducts research in several conflict areas in Africa to end genocide and crimes against humanity.

“At RIT, I am starting an organization called the Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, which is a student-led movement to end mass atrocities,” Ntekereze said. “The violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a result of the monopoly armed groups have on conflict minerals. Our hope is to advocate for RIT to purchase its electronic products from companies who are working to support peace in the Congo by eradicating conflict materials from their supply chains.”