Learning is in Sumaiya’s bones, and someone else’s

Published: October 16, 2020

An immigrant and undergraduate researcher motivated by childhood experiences plans to study medicine

When Sumaiya Nasrin was in fourth grade, in her home in Chittagong, Bangladesh, she happened upon a human patella bone and was fascinated by it. The kneecap bone was her uncle’s; part of an entire set of authentic body parts he had purchased as a medical student to learn about anatomy.

“My grandmother, my uncles, my parents – we all lived together, and it was on his table next to a giant book full of pictures that I’d always stare at. I just picked up the bone and held it. I would look at whatever he was studying,” the upper sophomore and honors biotechnology student recalled this semester, from her home in Jamaica, Queens.

Sumaiya NasrinThat was 15 years ago. Today, spurred by her own personal medical history, this survivor of numerous childhood contagious viruses including mumps, measles (twice) and chickenpox, is an experienced Queensborough undergraduate researcher and co-founder and Vice President of MAPS, Queensborough’s Mentor Association for Pre-Health Students.

“I also had dengue fever in 9th grade. It was my birthday and I woke up with rashes all over my body. I was really sick and I called my uncle. I had blood tests and my platelet count was critically low, at about 20,000. I was so scared; you could see blood in my eyes. It was bad.”

The top high school student received treatment at home under the care of her uncle, the doctor, and her parents, and recovered after two weeks.

“I remember wondering as a child what were the reasons I got so sick with Dengue and the other illnesses. Did anything in the air or the water contribute somehow?”

Nasrin went on to attend Kumudini Women’s Medical College in Tangail (190 miles north of Chittagong) for a year before immigrating to the United States in 2018 with her family.

“I’m not sure exactly what field of medicine I want to pursue but I want to at least minor in Public Health,” she explained, on the heels of an offer from the State University at Stony Brook to enroll in a biology program next spring after graduation from Queensborough.

This semester, under the supervision of Research Mentor, Professor Andrew Nguyen, Nasrin is investigating bacteria in local water as a member of the CUNY Research Scholar Program (CRSP). The title of the research is Examining the presence of Enterococcus spp. in water around NYC using loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), an alternative method to PCR).

“The training Nasrin receives here will serve her well in the future.  Opportunities are here, our students just need to grasp it,” said Professor Nguyen, who coincidentally studied Dengue in Sri Lanka earlier in his career.

“Many people who are re-infected with a different strain of Dengue virus develop leaky blood vessels that lead to a dramatic fluid loss and succumb to the disease.  We are fortunate that Nasrin was one of the lucky ones,” he said.

Last semester, under Queensborough’s Dr. Urszula Golebiewska, Nasrin successfully participated in the SEA-PHAGES Laboratory Honors Research Project, an extended program designed to combat antibiotic‐resistant infectious bacteria.

“We studied 276 genes of the bacteriophage Streptomyces Phage Beuffert. I researched 15 of them, analyzing the genomes and annotating them. The research motivated me to enroll in Queensborough’s Biotechnology Honors Course and Bioinformatics Honors Course,” Nasrin explained, adding that more than 70% of the antibiotics used today are derived from various Streptomyces bacterial species.

“I came to America for better opportunities and for security. Here, there are so many rewards for working hard,” she said.

And work hard she has. Nasrin’s pathway to Queensborough was not direct. When she moved here, the native Bengali speaker -- “scared about my English” -- worked at a food store where she would strain to eavesdrop on conversations at the checkout counter to learn spoken English. Soon after, she heard about Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT), an education and youth employment program, founded in Brooklyn in 1983, that provides training and assistance to young people and families in some of New York City’s most underserved communities. Through OBT, Nasrin secured an internship as a receptionist at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center and received advice about America’s “very different” higher education system.

“OBT’s College Access Director, Ms. Robin Blanc, explained what CUNY was all about and why a community college would be good for someone with my background and interests. I found the gateway to achieve my goals at Queensborough. It made sense for me to go here because Queensborough was affordable. It provided me the foundations I needed to continue my education and provided opportunities for me to network with like-minded, ambitious peers.”

Nasrin, a member of both Phi Theta Kappa and Psi Beta honor societies, is a participant in CUNY’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-STEP) and CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP). She has earned two Queensborough Academic Merit Scholarships, is a recipient of the Fall 2020 Barnes & Nobel Scholarship, volunteers for City Meals on Wheels and has raised funds for Queensborough’s Fight Campus Hunger campaign.

Nasrin is also a Career Development Intern at ASAP, a role she describes as ‘critical” to her development as a full member of the Queensborough community.

“Early on I was only focused on earning good grades, but as an intern I began to understand the importance of extra-curricular activities too. I learned leadership, communication and strong team-building skills, and I developed a network of students, professors and advisers like my Career Senior Advisor, Mr. Stephen Atkins.”

Nasrin works in retail on the weekends and studies at night, alone, when her parents and siblings are sleeping. She has not had time to visit the Statue of Liberty or Coney Island, but each destination is on her list of landmarks to see.

Her experience is what makes the United States such a great country, according to Nasrin’s mentor, Professor Nguyen, an immigrant who arrived at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975.

“I see the determination of newly arrived immigrants who grasp every opportunity and seize the moment.  With her hard work and determination, I have no doubt Nasrin will become a medical doctor in the near future,” he said.

Ambitious and hopeful, Nasrin is not looking back.

“Chittagong was colorful and I miss Bengali New Year festivals, but here I love the way I learn about new cultures and meet new people with different backgrounds. I hope that I will reach the top of my cherished goal. I believe in possibilities.”


Contact:  Michael Donahue or Alice Doyle

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