No Matter Where You Start, RIT Gets You There
Nana Aikins is originally from Ghana. He immigrated to the United States in 2016 and lives in Austell, GA. He attended high school in Ghana and was looking for a college that promoted diversity and allowed students to express themselves. Nana became interested in RIT after finding out about the research opportunities available to the students. He chose Biochemistry because he was fascinated by how all the complex living processes can be explained by examining the DNA, RNA, and proteins.
Niaya Jackson is from Rochester, New York, and grew up with RIT in her backyard. She was awarded the Rochester City Scholars Scholarship to RIT and chose the Biochemistry program because of its balance between chemistry and biology. She thought it would be the best of both worlds!
Once on campus, both Nana and Niaya found faculty support, research opportunities, and extracurricular activities to suit their needs. Nana was taking a Biochemistry Lab course taught by Dr. Suzanne O’Handley, and a simple conversation about Dr. O’Handley’s research turned into a role in her lab. After that, Nana was awarded multiple research grants that allowed him to work with Dr. Makini Beck and Dr. Michael Gleghorn, and Dr. O’Handley.
"All my research mentors have been helpful in my overall research experience, including grant and scholarship applications. Before I officially began my research with Dr. O'Handley, I had little to no idea of what research entailed but with the guidance of faculty and my research mentors, and I am now proficient in my research."
Niaya got involved in research at RIT during her freshman year as a research assistant in The Michel Research Group with Dr. Lea Michel. She performed techniques, kept track of results, and conducted additional research about the PAL Sepsis and OMP 26/ Protein D projects. She moved into a leadership role in both projects, thanks to the support from Dr. Michel.
"To grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone. Dr. Michel helped push me by allowing me to be a group leader during my sophomore summer going into junior year. She has always pushed me to new heights and helped me grow as a biochemist."
– Niaya Jackson
Research taught both students valuable lessons about resilience and perseverance. “Not all experiments are going to end up as desired,” said Nana. He enjoyed working with different professors on their projects, performing experiments, collecting data, and even troubleshooting problems with experiments. Even negative results presented an opportunity for him to think critically about what he was doing and try doing things differently. Similarly, Niaya says, “I have learned from my research that you should never give up.” Even if things may not work at first, she learned that a simple tweak or a new approach could help. Both students also presented their research at conferences and symposiums.
Nana and Niaya do get out of the research lab and explore other aspects of the RIT community. Nana is involved in the RIT American Society for Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) student chapter, the RIT Organization for African Students (OAS), the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity and is in the RIT McNair/ Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. Niaya is involved in the Alpha Mentee Program and the Black Awareness Coordinating Committee. She was a learning assistant for the Intro to Biology course, tutored for HEOP and the Division of Diversity and Inclusion. Currently, she is the co-representative for WISe on the Center for Women and Gender Studies Student Activity Board and has been volunteering in student panels for open houses. Outside of RIT, she also holds down a part-time job as a pharmacy technician at Strong Memorial Hospital. Both have volunteered in student panels for open houses.
If Nana and Niaya could tell their first-year selves anything, it would be to keep an open mind, step out of your comfort zone sometimes, and get involved on campus. They found that even though they came from different hometowns, they found the supportive, close-knit community in the College of Science that helped them figure out their next step. Both plan to apply to medical school, with Niaya doing the CLIMB UP program at the University at Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences this summer.