FVSU students honored as national role models

A prominent national organization honored two Fort Valley State University students for their outstanding achievements and scholarship at a prominent conference. FVSU seniors Zandaria Chambers and Deja Clay received the 2016 National Student Role Model Awards at the Minority Access Incorporated’s 17th annual National Role Model Conference in Washington, D.C. recently.

Minority Access Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 to increase diversity by advancing educational and employment opportunities for underrepresented groups.  The organization selects students, faculty members, colleges and universities as role models to expand the number of underrepresented groups in science and research-related professions.

Chambers is a plant science student from Albany, Ga. The 24-year-old was nominated by Dr. Sarwan Dhir, professor and director of FVSU’s Center for Biotechnology, for a collaborative research project she completed during a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate summer research at the University of Georgia. Chambers examined a fungus pathogen found in maize plants called, Fusarium verticillioides. The fungus produces a mycotoxin which is potentially carcinogenic in a variety of animals, including horses, pigs; and potentially in humans.

“It was a very humbling experience, and I wasn’t expecting this award, so I felt very fortunate and happy to be nominated,” Chambers said.

The awards recognize minority college students who have maintained outstanding academic records and successfully completed a major research project. Recipients are eligible to apply for grants and scholarships through the organization.

“This is a huge distinction that really reflects their backgrounds and showcases their commitment to academics and community service,” said Dhir. “They have exhibited scholarly excellence and are extremely involved on campus, making them top role models for others.”

Clay was nominated by Seema Dhir, an FVSU assistant professor of biology. The 19-year-old is a biology student who also participates in FVSU’s Cooperative Developmental Energy Program. “I knew that I was going to win the award,” Clay said. “But, I didn’t understand the magnitude of it. It was a huge honor to be selected from that [accomplished] pool of students.”

“We, as a group of several STEM faculty members, strongly feel that Ms. Clay holds an excellent academic career as evidenced by her 4.0 GPA. She’s been involved in research, community service and member recruitment for the Beta Kappa Chi Scientific Honor Society and the National Institute of Science. That why, I, as a faculty advisor and mentor nominated her for this award,” Seema Dhir said.

Clay received her honor for research that she completed at the multiyear collaborative NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates site program between FVSU and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where she studied the dietary effects on energy storage for the Drosophilia Melanogaster (fruit fly).

Chambers and Clay will graduate in May 2017. After graduation, Chambers is interested in pursuing pathology research. Clay will transfer to University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a CDEP partner school, for two years, where she will earn a second bachelor’s degree in health physics (a profession which deals with the effects of radiation upon the human body). After receiving her degree, Clay will enter medical school.

The students had this advice for young people considering a research path.

“When you fail, you can learn from that experience,” Clay said. “Don’t let that mistake be final, keep pushing. Also, you can dream of success, but don’t go at it alone. Have people to help you, and don’t forget them, because they will always help you reach your destination.”

“I would tell students to stay dedicated to your path,” Chambers said. “Don’t get discouraged. If your research doesn’t come out the way you want, that doesn’t mean you failed. Work through it. Be open to learning from your mentors. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you do or don’t know, because they are there to help you and it’s a learning experience at the end of the day.”

The National Role Model recipients are eligible to apply for grants and scholarships through the organization and other governmental agencies and private sources.

For details about the FVSU Center for Biology or the National Role Model Awards, contact Dr. Sarwan Dhir, dhirs0@fvsu.edu.

Role Model Conference


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