Alumni Awards 2017: Kate Laskowski ’06, Biological Sciences and Chemistry

In the weeks leading up to the Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in more detail here on our blog. Today, meet Kate Laskowski ’06, biological sciences and chemistry, scientist at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, and this year’s Outstanding Alumna in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences.


Kate Laskowski ’06, biological sciences and chemistry, had plans for veterinary school when she enrolled at UMBC, and figured that experience as an undergraduate researcher could only help with the application process. When she got to the lab, however, she realized what she “really wanted to keep doing — which was more research!” As an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Jeff Leips’ lab, Laskowski helped research genetic aging patterns in the Drosophila species of fruit fly, and kicked off the lab’s work with parasitoid wasps, picking up an Undergraduate Research Award and presenting at an international conference in Wales along the way. In her doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she studied the evolutionary origins of animal personality traits in the threespine stickleback. Now, as a scientist at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Germany, she’s continuing her research into behavior and social interactions among fish species. “It turns out competition and cooperation among group members is a key driver for animal personalities,” she writes, “which I think resonates quite nicely with our own human experience.” In her own human experience, Laskowski, who has been living in Germany for four years with the help of a grant from the German Science Foundation, credits adjusting to life in another country and learning a new language as some of her biggest personal accomplishments.

Join us for the 2017 Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 5!

ICYMI: Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, biological sciences, on diversity and mentorship

Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, M17, biological sciences, is now in his final year of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and recently gave an interview for Diverse Medicine’s “Black Men in White Coats” series, which aims to highlight the contributions of African-American men to the medical profession.

As a physician-scientist, Ezekwe speaks of the importance of mentorship for young people of color pursuing careers in medicine and the sciences. “The more folks of color you have on any faculty,” he says, “the more realistic the possibility seems. That’s why mentorship is key to me, and I want it to be a massive part of my career and my life.”

Catch the full video below:

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Alumni Awards 2016: Dr. Henry Baker ’78, Ph.D. ’84, Biological Sciences

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in detail here on the blog. This year’s distinguished alum in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences category is Dr. Henry Baker ’78, and Ph.D. ’84, biological sciences. At the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Baker is the Hazel Kitzman Professor of Genetics, as well as a professor of surgery and chair of the department of molecular genetics and microbiology. He is also associate director of the University of Florida Genetics Institute.

h-baker_headshotAs a researcher at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Henry Baker looks at patients’ genes to determine how they will respond to certain types of treatment for traumatic injuries, as well as what their prognosis might be. The Catonsville native got his start when UMBC was, in his words, “that new college down the street,” conducting undergraduate research in Dr. Frank Hanson’s laboratory. “The biological sciences curriculum was exceptionally well laid out,” he says, “and the integration with undergraduate labs was phenomenal.” After completing his doctorate under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Wolf — someone who Dr. Baker says had the greatest impact on his career — he went on to a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School before accepting a faculty position at Florida, where he’s been ever since. Over the past three decades (and counting), he’s risen in the ranks from assistant professor to endowed professor and department chair, and also sits on the executive and medical admissions committees. He has stayed in contact with his Ph.D. mentor over the years, and says he is proud of how far UMBC has come since he was a student here, particularly in the achievements of President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. He also takes pride in his relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, and in working with diverse groups of people to help them achieve their goals.

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 6, in the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall.

Career Q&A: Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Nilusha Jayasinghe ’13, biological sciences and Spanish, M.S. ’15 applied molecular biology, about her work as a researcher at the National Institutes of Health.

image1Name: Nilusha Jayasinghe
Job Title: Intramural Research Fellow, National Institutes of Health
Major/Minor: Undergrad: Biology and Spanish, Grad: Applied Molecular Biology (AMB)
Grad Year: Undergrad: 2013, Grad: 2015

Tell me a little about the research project you’re involved in at NIH. I study the genetics of blood and lymph vessel development and differentiation during vertebrate development using the model organism zebrafish. We look at the genes that are critical in different signaling pathways that dictate proper vessel development, which can also play a role in cancer metastasis since tumors need these vessels to survive. Zebrafish develop rapidly and produce transparent embryos which are fertilized outside of the mother, which enable us to use them to study our topic very easily. Most importantly, development in zebrafish is very similar to human development, so we can translate our findings into the genetics behind circulatory defects in humans which is really interesting and useful!

How did your UMBC experience bring you to your current position in research? I was a pre-med student back then at UMBC (currently I’ll call myself pre-health, since I am also considering [physician assistant] school as well), and one of the things that make a competitive applicant is research experience. I also have skills and interests in the biological sciences which were especially refined during my master’s program, so I thought that I’ll take a few years post-graduation to do more research. I ended up at the NIH because of their amazing research facilities and track record, as well as their extensive pre-health community and resources.

Is there a particular class or professor at UMBC that inspired you? Yes! I’ll have to say that Dr. Richard Wolf (now retired, taught prokaryotic molecular biology and directed the AMB program) and Ms. Julia Wolf (taught the lab part of the AMB program) both inspired and challenged me a lot during my master’s program. They were excellent instructors and mentors, teaching with both care and the necessary challenge[s] to push their students to their [maximum] potential.

Having had the experience, what piece of advice would you give a new UMBC student? There is so much that I learned at UMBC and so many things I can say, but I think one of the most valuable things is to realize the amount of resources and great minds there are [here]. With that said, in order to make the best of your experience I think that getting involved and networking is so important! Tell people about what interests you and what you hope to do short-term or long-term, and I guarantee that they will want to help you! You never know what others may know about or can do for you that might open the doors for some of the best experiences of your life. This happened to me many times at UMBC [,and these experiences] helped me land graduate assistantships, learn about the AMB program, and finally get a spot in the NIH, for some examples. So, put yourself out there and let yourself be known!

Meet the Newest Alums: Schuster, Hester, Owusu-Boaitey, and Hawkins

UMBC is always full of hard-working people who aspire to do great things, and the class of 2014 is no exception. Today, we wanted to share with you what some of our recent graduates are planning to do with their Retriever education.

Schuster2014-6820_modFor seven of her eight semesters at UMBC, Kat Schuster, theatre, dedicated her time to the costume shop on campus. A Linehan Artist Scholar, she has been recognized by the theatre department, local theatre companies and their audiences. While aiding younger students through UMBC Residential Life and the Wilde Lake High School Theatre Department, Schuster was awarded the Outstanding Departmental Service Award along with the Linehan Summer Award. She now plans to work in theatre administration and technician and costuming positions at Daydreams and Nightmares Aerial Theatre, Historical designs, and the Jim Rouse Theatre.

Hester2014-7065_modMary Hester, dance and interdisciplinary studies, used her love of dance and advocacy to serve as president of the Dance Council of Majors, receive the Linehan Summer Research and Study Award, and perform at the American College Dance Festival. Her project “Arts Advocacy: Promoting Policy Change,” analyzed “the benefits of dance lessons and the political implications for arts education.” She now plans to complete an M.P.P. at UMBC.

Oswusu-Boaitey2014-7072_modA campus leader and driven student, Kwadwo “Kojo” Owusu-Boaitey, philosophy and biological sciences, was a Meyerhoff Scholar, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Undergraduate Scholar, and Salutatorian for the Class of 2014. He was greatly involved as a member of the club soccer team, president of the Meyerhoff Scholars, co-founder and treasurer of the Minority Association of Premedical Students, and vice president of Philosophers Anonymous. Owusu-Boaitey has completed breast cancer research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, has done research at MIT labs for two summers, and is now contributing to a research manuscript. He plans to earn his M.D./Ph.D. from Harvard and MIT after graduation.

Hawkins2014-0170_modMiss Baltimore 2014, Miss Maryland 2013 runner-up, and winner of two Miss America Academic Awards, Samantha Hawkins, cultural anthropology and interdisciplinary studies, visual research methodology, was a member of the Honors College and received the Undergraduate Research Award. She has volunteered weekly at St. Francis Neighborhood Center, was a goodwill ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, and interned at Maryland State Arts Council and the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. Hawkins plans to earn her Ph.D. in socioanthropology with a fully-funded fellowship at Harvard University.

Learn more about the Class of 2014!

Outstanding Alumnus: Isaac Kinde ’05

Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to this year’s Alumni Award winners. The UMBC Alumni Association proudly honors distinguished alumni and faculty for their accomplishments and dedication to UMBC. Today we’re talking witIsaac - Kinde_Alumni_Award_Recipienth Isaac Kinde ‘05, biological science, about his research with cancer diagnostics. 

Name: Isaac Kinde ’05, biological science
Title: M.D./Ph.D. Candidate, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Award Category: Rising Star

Q: Please tell us a little about why you chose to attend UMBC and what, if any, involvement you have with the university currently.

The Meyerhoff Program was the most important reason why I chose to attend UMBC as a California native. Its immersive scientific experience was attractive, but I was even more excited about the opportunity to be closely surrounded by like-minded peers. The engagement of the faculty, staff, and administration further inspired confidence in my decision. I now return yearly to help interview candidates for the Meyerhoff Program.

Q: Is there a particular class or professor at UMBC who really inspired you?

Working with my research mentor, Dr. Michael Summers, was transformative. It was then I recognized that the best way to learn science was to do science. Having no prior research experience, I remember his patience and commitment to mentorship being central to my persistence in the lab. Equally memorable was how much fun I had. The group skiing trips, picnics, and mountain biking outings were great ways to bond with my colleagues and blow off steam. As a direct result of his mentorship, I ended up applying to combined M.D. /Ph.D. programs instead of solely pursuing my M.D.

Q: Please tell us a little about the trajectory of your career and what you are working on now:

My doctoral research produced novel cancer diagnostics based on improvements in DNA sequencing technology. Example applications include a prototype screening test for ovarian and endometrial cancer from Pap smear specimens, a noninvasive method of monitoring bladder cancers from urine, and a revelation in the development of treatment resistance from analyzing the blood of patients with colon cancer. With the help of my mentors and collaborators, I have published descriptions of these technologies and applications in leading scientific journals and submitted several patent applications detailing the inventions. Encouragingly, this work has attracted considerable attention from industry, spurring partnerships to facilitate its commercialization. The ultimate goal is to bring meaningful cancer diagnostic tests to the clinic – where the real difference to patients’ lives can be realized.

Q: What has been the greatest success in your career? The greatest challenge?

My greatest challenge led to my greatest success. When I began the graduate school portion of my training program, I joined a team working on applying new technologies to detect cancers at early, highly curable stages. We repeatedly identified the wrong technology to accomplish our goal, but the potential impact of finding the right technology kept us going. Three years later we created the technology we needed – a method that significantly improved the accuracy of commercial next- generation DNA sequencers. It wasn’t an easy process but the benefits of our technology have made the effort worthwhile. We’re now developing this technology for use in the earlier detection and optimal management of several cancers.

Check out the other Alumni Award winners.

Round-Up: UMBC in the News, 3/7

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

Check out all the other great campus news on Insights Weekly.