Competing with more than 2,000 undergraduate students at the largest minority research convention in the country, two Morehouse College students and natives of DeKalb County won top awards – taking home both medals and money.
Jabari Elliott and Adriel James – both Stephenson High graduates – received $250 each and were honored at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) held last month in Charlotte, N.C.
Elliott received a biochemical science award for doing something that had never been done – crystallizing a C-terminal fragment of the Cog3 protein.
“I know it sounds complicated, but if you don’t have it (Cog3 protein) or there are defects, you die,” Elliott said.
Over the summer Elliott did research at Princeton University where he said several experiments were under way to crystallize a fragment or whole of this particular protein.
“Everyone was trying to do it, but I was able to crystallize a fragment of this protein, which helps you get better crystal morphology and do a better structural study on the protein to find out how it works. It’s important because if there are defects in this protein the cell dies. The protein is in all eukaryotes, including humans,” he added.
His longtime classmate and friend Adriel James was one of three sophomore students from more than 285 colleges and universities in the United States who competed and won an award in microbiological science.
For his summer research project at University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, James looked at the prevalence and severity of mycobacteriosis in white perch.
“Mycobateriosis is a disease that affects many fish throughout the world. We wanted to pinpoint the exact age of when the fish get these diseases,” James said.
“We now know about what age they get it, however it’s not yet certain how they get the disease. Scientists haven’t pinpointed the origin either. We do know that it’s the same bacteria that cause tuberculosis in humans,” he added.
At the conference designed to encourage underrepresented minority students to pursue advanced training and education in the biomedical and behavioral sciences, a total of 11 Morehouse students won awards.
Six of those students participate in the Dr. John H. Hopps Jr. Defense Research Scholars Program, which seeks to double the number of Morehouse students pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.
In the 1990s John H. Hopps Jr. was the deputy undersecretary of defense for laboratories and basic sciences at the U.S. Department of Defense. Before the DOD, Hopps was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Morehouse.
Program officials said since its debut in fall 2006 the program has grown from 22 students to 91 and more than 90 percent of them have performed research at institutions of higher education such as Harvard, Stanford and the University of Washington.
“Our students are able to do this kind of research because of Dr. Hopps’ vision and humanitarian gestures. He loved science and wanted Morehouse men to do well. In his honor the DOD has continually supported us,” executive director of the program Rahmelle Thompson said.
“Many of these students are in financial need. So we want to encourage young men to apply. We give scholarships. The DOD has given Morehouse $8 million just to groom these gentlemen to get a Ph.D after they matriculate at Morehouse College,” she said.
Freshmen students who are accepted into Morehouse College can apply to the Hopps program. If accepted into the program students take summer classes and perform a research project. Based on grades and research contribution they are then invited to participate in the four-year program.
Students who are accepted into the full four-year program can receive up to $15,000 in scholarship funding per year toward the college’s $20,000 tuition.
Both Elliott and James credit the Hopps program with their success.
“It’s amazing. I wouldn’t have been doing this if it wasn’t for Hoops. I wouldn’t have done research at Princeton – or probably anywhere. I would have been so closed minded to what I could do in my field,” Elliott said.
“I feel the same way. It’s opened up a whole new set of options for me,” he added.