UB Student receives Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship
Jasmine May's father died from brain cancer but his passing did not hinder her studies; instead, it was an inspiration for her to research better treatments for the disease.
May, a sophomore medicinal chemistry major, won the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a prestigious award given to 278 undergraduate students in the U.S. pursuing degrees in engineering, mathematics and the natural sciences. Through this scholarship, May will receive $7,500 per year for her final two years at UB, covering tuition, fees, books and other expenses.
May's research focuses on developing non-invasive cancer therapies using silicon nanoparticles, as opposed to surgical treatments.
Her interest in this research developed gradually, and it wasn't until she got involved in UB's Collegiate Science and Technology Entrance Program (CSTEP) that she became excited about the field.
"I did a summer research program through CSTEP… and it kind of gave me a little bit of experience as to what real research would be like, so after that I got involved in the actual lab and from there [I decided] this is probably what I really want to do," May said.
May is thrilled to see her hard work paying off and views this scholarship as only the beginning of the opportunities she'll have throughout her collegiate career.
"I heard about [the award] when I was in the O'Brian law library, so unlike most normal celebrations where there may be some sound coming out, I had to be really quiet with mine," May said. "It kind of turned into flailing. I was really excited and aside from the monetary award, this award opens up new doors to more scholarships, fellowships, other things I can apply for and feel more confident in applying for."
From May's early childhood, her father was always a source of inspiration and motivation for the budding researcher.
"When I was younger, he would buy me these games called Jump Start," May said. "They went up by year, so if I was going into third grade, he would buy me the third grade one so that I could do it in preparation for that following academic year."
Douglas May was the valedictorian of his graduating class at Clarkson University, and Jasmine is using his success as a model.
May found another mentor among the UB faculty – Kenneth Takeuchi, a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of chemistry. Takeuchi taught her Chemistry 105 and 106 classes – the honors version of chemistry 101 and 102 – and he has been a source of encouragement for her ever since.
"He's been a wonderful mentor in the fact that he's always wanted to see me succeed and he's never told me that I can't do something," May said. "He was very good at not only teaching the material but showing how that material can actually be applied to real life situations, which I feel is a very important connection that some professors miss when they are teaching a subject."
May learned about this real-world connection during her internship in Takeuchi's lab in the fall and her current research at UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB), where she works alongside Paras Prasad, a distinguished professor and executive director of the Institute.
"Research can be very surprising," May said. "It's different from school in the sense that with school there's always an answer. With research, we don't know the answer so we'll try to find it," May said. "For lab you must always be the first one there and the last to leave if you want to be successful. It takes a lot of time and effort."
Sometimes May's workload becomes a bit overwhelming, and that's when she needs to take a break and rejuvenate.
"Whenever I do seem to crash, a lot of times my boyfriend is always there to be like ‘okay, let's just hang out, let's watch a movie, let's play some video games and just relax,'" May said.
But burnout never prevents May from moving ahead with her schoolwork, for fear that she will fall behind.
"I'm a very competitive person," May said. "If I'm not putting in the work right now, someone else is, and I don't like that. I don't want to be behind anyone. In this race that everyone's a part of, I don't want to be the last one. I want to be the first in my field, I want to be successful and I want to have a good life and if I want all of that, I have to work hard now and that's what keeps pushing me to do all this."
After graduating with a B.S. in medicinal chemistry, May plans to get a Ph.D. in medicinal chemistry and become a tenured professor at a well-established research university affiliated with Cancer Institute where she can teach and continue her research.
Before May is handed her diploma, she wants to leave her personal mark on UB – one of dedication and accomplishment.
"I want people to remember me for the work that I've done and for what I was able to accomplish," May said. "It would be cool if my kids could come back here one day and they're like, ‘you're Jasmine May's daughter or son.'"