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The Biomedical and Biological Sciences Program (BBSP) welcomed a new class of PhD students to Chapel Hill this week for orientation.

CHAPEL HILL, NC – The new BBSP class of 76 students was selected from more than 1,300 applicants and completed undergraduate studies at 54 different universities around the U.S. and world. There are citizens of a total of eight different countries, and 32% of students are from historically underrepresented groups in the Biosciences.

Through the BBSP program, the students will spend their first year sampling various labs and courses before they ultimately decide on one of the 14 BBSP member PhD programs, and the lab where they will complete their thesis.

We caught up with several students on their first day of orientation to discuss their individual research interests and the paths that led them to Carolina.

Nancy Sey and her family moved to the U.S. from Ghana eight years ago when she was 15 years old. She is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University and is an alumnus of UNC PREP (Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program). She decided to stay at UNC for her graduate studies because of the resources available to her as she pursues her interests.“I see myself doing research on schizophrenia and comorbidity with other problems like drug addiction. In Ghana most of the patients with psychiatric illnesses do not have the same kind of help as in the U.S. You find these patients completely abandoned by their family and there’s a lack of resources to help them. That’s what got me interested in this type of research.”
Gabrielle Gentile graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and is originally from Ohio. She previously considered going to medical school, but realized research is her true passion.

“I like the engagement and hands-on approach of research. That’s one reason why UNC caught my eye. There is a breadth of research happening here and I will get to experience multiple labs and a wide variety of areas. I also hope to get involved with outreach to younger students to teach them what research is and that it is a possibility for them too.”

Hernán Gabriel Méndez Colón is from Puerto Rico and graduated from the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey. He says the past year has been a challenge because of the devastating impacts of hurricane Maria. Despite the obstacles he’s faced, he’s excited for the opportunities ahead of him.

“I’ve been to UNC for the SOLAR (Summer of Learning and Research) Program and was able to work with Dr. Jessica Harrell and Dr. Jiandong Liu. They both helped me realize my potential and I knew UNC was where I wanted to continue my studies.”

Devina Thiono moved to the U.S. from Indonesia in 2012. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts and then spent time working in Boston at a startup company and Boston Children’s Hospital. She’s studying at UNC to learn more about drug development and drug delivery.

“Up until now my education has been more about applied science. The pharmacy side interests me, and I’m excited to rotate through different labs here at UNC to get a full research experience.”

Baggio Evangelista graduated from the University of Central Florida in his hometown of Orlando. His interest in research began during a college program that placed him in a Parkinson’s disease research lab. His grandfather suffered from Parkinson’s and he’s realized the importance of the research.

“I’m interested in progressive neurodegenerative diseases because the incidences of those are on the rise. Having that personal tie to Parkinson’s makes me see why the work needs to be continued. I know the resources available to me here at UNC will allow me to pursue this research.”