Nicah Driza ’21

Nicah Driza

When I first moved to the U.S. from the Philippines at 7-years-old, I knew, with my Powerpuff Girls backpack strapped to my back, that I would change the world. Growing up, that led to many different possibilities – becoming a lawyer, a musician, a diplomat or a teacher. It wasn’t until high school when I realized that it could also mean being a scientist.

At Pomona, I am extremely lucky and grateful to have been able to find a supportive community, through my classmates and my professors. From my first genetics and general chemistry lecture, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to stay in STEM, and I initially decided to major in biology. However, the summer after my first year, I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks at a lab in Boston at Tufts Medical School. I worked in Dr. Andrew Bohm’s lab attempting to make progress in solving the crystal structure of HRI, a heme-regulated inhibitor kinase, and a possible anti-cancer agent. I spent my days in lab grappling the basics of crystallography, optimizing crystallization conditions, and learning how to use the x-ray source we had in the lab.

I knew then that I wanted to delve deeper into the field of structural biology and biochemistry, so after getting advice from my student mentors and professors, I reached out to Professor Matthew Sazinsky and started working on a new crystallography and biochemistry project. I am currently working with RHA-P, an alpha-rhamnosidase enzyme that has the ability to make flavonoids (natural products that have antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties!) biologically available to the human body. Reflecting on my research experiences and taking note of what really excites me has made me realize that molecular biology is the major for me. From genetics to biochemistry to molecular biology lab, I have enjoyed the challenge and information my classes provide. They have taught me to appreciate the little things that we take for granted, and partly because we don’t always know they’re happening! As a molecular biology major, I am able to study how small molecules have a big impact. Even though I don’t have my Powerpuff Girls backpack anymore, I am just as confident that I will be able to make a positive impact to my community in the future.

Shaheed Muhammad ’21

Shaheed Muhammad

Ever since I can remember, medicine and the human body have been sources of pure enchantment for me. Growing up with a disabled mother, I was thrown into the world of medicine from a very young age. This interest in the human body and understanding its workings led to me diving head first into biology at an early age. Throughout middle school and high school my favorite courses were always directly related to biology. I truly love understanding life, or more specifically how our bodies function on a cellular and molecular level. I believe understanding molecular biology will ultimately help me understand the very fabric of our being as humans.

Coming to college I knew I wanted to study biology and music, but I was taken by surprise when I genuinely enjoyed my chemistry courses as well. This mixed with the fact that my favorite biology classes were intertwined with chemistry, pushed me towards the molecular biology major. I initially thought I would just study biology, but all of my favorite courses focused on biology in a cellular or molecular light. After recognizing this, I talked to the faculty in the department, and that is when I truly knew where I belonged. The molecular biology staff are incredibly supportive and kind. From the intro classes to the upper division courses, they are always here for you whenever you need assistance, guidance, counsel or just a friendly conversation.

In order to further explore modern medicine, I wanted to work in the beginning steps of medicine—lab research—so for my freshman summer, I obtained a research position at Tufts Medical School through the incredible staff at Pomona. Over the summer I worked in the lab of doctor Phillip Hinds and worked towards understanding how CDK6 knockout mice were resistant to left ventricular hypertrophy, and thus also resistant to heart disease. This research aims to find new medicine to help prevent and treat heart disease (which I found extremely interesting all around). In the lab I was able to do things that would cause childhood me to drop his jaw and stare in awe. These procedures included performing echocardiography of mice, analyzing the bodies of cancer ridden mice, culturing primary cells, and performing surgeries on mice to insert osmotic pumps.

Majoring in molecular biology has not only given me a better understanding of the foundations of human life, but also gives me a strong foundation academically, professionally and socially.

Brenda Wong ’21

Brenda Wong

From a young age, I honestly never considered going into science; I was more interested in the careers of the people around me, such as being a lawyer or a teacher. However, in high school, I met amazing science teachers who made biology sound magical. Although those classes were difficult, I was intrigued and wanted to dive deeper. My fate as a biologist was sealed when I was able to make biotechnology school kits at Amgen; although all I did was make simple buffers and agarose gels, it was fascinating enough that made me want to pursue a career in science. After I graduated high school, I was able to do research as a summer fellow at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute for eight weeks, focusing on the cardiotoxic effects of cancer treatments in mice. There, I got a taste of what it meant to be a researcher: Running assays, collecting and analyzing data to create a cohesive conclusion to present to others in hopes that my work would make a difference.

Coming to Pomona, I thought I would become a biology major. However, after taking Intro to Genetics with my advisor Professor Clarissa Cheney, I realized genetics was an area I would like to do research in; genetics itself is a very broad term but it’s the foundation of how our bodies are built and run, which intriguing in and of itself. From a quick Google search, I realized that going into genetics would require a stronger chemistry background—thus, I became a molecular biology major. Being a molecular biology major was something I never imagined myself doing, yet it has become something that I can only see myself doing.

A great thing I love about this major is that I get the resources and the support of two great departments—biology and chemistry; that’s double the professors I can meet! Last summer, I started doing research with Professor Cheney, in which I was looking at different genes in relation to cell adhesion molecules in drosophila. Doing research at Pomona has made me excited for the future research I’ll do in graduate school and in my career. Additionally, studying abroad at the University of Melbourne has also given me a chance to take more genetics courses and as much as I love genetics, it’s a bit daunting to see how much has already discovered, and yet there is much more to be discovered and understood. Nevertheless, I’m confident I’ll leave Pomona prepared to face the world of genetic anomalies and make impactful research discoveries.