North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Biomedical and Biological Sciences students Chisom Ezenwenyi and Philomena Onasanya were named American Heart Association Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Scholars, a program that aims to close the gap in health disparities by supporting scholars seeking careers in biomedical and health sciences.
The pair are among 53 undergraduate students selected from HBCUs around the country. This year’s scholars came from Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. To date, 89 students from HBCUs across the southeastern U.S. have completed the academic year program.
“The American Heart Association’s HBCU Scholars Program will provide Chisom Ezenwenyi and Philomena Onasanya a competitive advantage as they pursue careers in science and healthcare,” said David H. Jackson Jr., Ph.D., provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at NCCU. “These students have demonstrated sincere dedication to their education and research efforts which will lead to successful careers.”
USA Today reports that only 6% of medical school graduates and less than 4% of physicians are African American.
“The American Heart Association HBCU Scholars program meets the call for the urgent need to increase the number of African American students majoring in the biomedical and health science,” said Charlene Walton, M.D., director of HBCU Scholars Program and Collegiate Diversity Partnerships Health Strategies for the Southeast Region of the American Heart Association.“We need to close the gap in health disparities and achieve health equity in our country.”
To be considered for the honor, scholars must have a grade point average of at least 3.2 and an interest in community engagement and in the field of biomedical and health sciences.
As 2021-2022 scholars, Ezenwenyi and Onasanya will participate in activities designed to increase awareness of opportunities in professional research, science and public health careers.
The scholars will also have a chance to sharpen critical skills necessary for success in post-graduate degree programs and engage in virtual leadership workshops, including the American Heart Association’s International Scientific Sessions in November 2021 and the annual HBCU Scholars Research Symposium, scheduled for Spring 2022.
“Through strategic partnerships with HBCUs, the American Heart Association is committed to helping cultivate the next generation of African American healthcare providers, public health professionals and researchers who will bring diverse perspectives, solutions and medical treatment to their communities,” Walton said.
Ezenwenyi, an honor student from Durham, N.C., is interested in interest exploring various types of healthcare careers, including dentistry.
“This opportunity will provide a new network and broaden my horizons in the world of science,” Ezenwenyi said.
The third-year student most recently spent her summer researching effective combinations of cancer treatments at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill during the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience Program in Biological Mechanisms.
Outside the classroom, she is a member of the NCCU Journal Club and serving as a biology tutor.
Ezenwenyi credits her advisor and mentor, Tamara Slenn, Ph.D., assistant professor of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, with being an inspirational figure during her academic career.
Onasanya, a senior, looks forward to learning more about the opportunities for minorities in healthcare and science.
“It is an amazing feeling to have the chance to represent NCCU while learning about the many facets of science and healthcare,” Onasanya said. “This opportunity will direct me to different aspects of science that I hadn't explored previously.”
Onasanya spent eight weeks over the summer at Duke University as part of the Summer Scholars Program in Genome Sciences and Medicine for Underrepresented Minority Underclassmen.
The honor student is also active in university organizations, including NCCU’s chapter of Beta Beta Beta Biological Science Honor Society, Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society, the NCCU Journal Club and the Biology Society.
The Springfield, Mass., native plans to funnel her interest in healthcare into a career as a physician's assistant.