Through the generous support of local biotechnology company Regeneron, four times a year, River Journal publishes the on-site report of a River Towns high school science student who is paired with a Regeneron scientist to experience what it is like to put STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education to work in the real world.
The science research program at Irvington High School has given me many unique opportunities. My experience of being able to interview the accomplished scientist, Chiatogu Onyewu, M.D., Ph.D. has been one of the highlights for me in this program. Given my love of science, I was curious to find out how such an accomplished doctor got the science bug as well. She replied that it started in her seventh-grade science classes. Her interest in learning about the cell, combined with how well she was doing in her classes, was how her love for science began. Dr. Onyewu added that science fairs held throughout junior high further propelled her interest in science and the scientific method. She also loved going to the doctor’s office, where she watched her pediatrician help with her ailments and converse with her mother, who was a nurse, and this fascinated her.
As I am about to begin the college process, I was very interested to hear about Dr. Onyewu’s experience. She believes that her transition to college was probably the most impactful time in her professional development. In particular, being selected as a scholar for the Meyerhoff Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), which focused on increasing the number of African American PHDs in the country, laid the groundwork for her educational path and future career aspirations.
Dr. Onyewu is now a medical scientist leading research program management at Regeneron. I was interested to hear her views on time management given that she balances her career while raising a family. She commented that she personally has a few tricks to improve her time management skills, which include always having deadlines to keep her on track. She believes it is vital to focus on mental and physical health, and sometimes after a tough or tiring day, she likes to dance off her stress because physical movement helps her feel much better.
Dr. Onyewu’s first mentored research experience focused on microbiology, but this experience then led to many more projects beyond that field. As a medical student, she gained new perspective on the potential for scientific research to make a difference for patients. When Dr. Onyewu began her graduate research in a lab that focused on anti-fungal drug targeting of opportunistic yeast, she was excited to recognize the potential to provide tangible options in a therapeutics space.
In my own research, I have become fascinated with genetics, and the true inner workings of the body. The research I am most interested in, is trying to use the body’s genetics as a tool to eradicate disease instead of causing disease. This makes me particularly curious about Dr. Onyewu’s current work. Although she did not study CRISPR genetics in graduate school, her current work focuses on various internal pathways where CRISPR technology can be used to edit genes. In her role at Regeneron, she is working collaboratively with other biotechnology companies that have innovative genetic and cellular technologies with the goal of developing cutting edge therapeutics.
Upon learning so much about Dr. Onyewu’s ideas and work, I was very interested to hear about her future research projects. She replied that she would primarily focus on genetic and cell therapies because they are ground-breaking with the potential to truly transform patient health.
CAPTION: Chiatogu Onyewu, M.D., Ph.D.