Three Recent SC State Graduates on a Journey Together at Georgetown University

Monday, October 10, 2011

Melinda WashingtonMelinda Washington and Shela Mainor have been friends from the start. They met during their sophomore year at SC State University. Both majored in biology and later became line sisters for Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Finally, they both graduated from SC State University in May 2011. Now, they have followed each other miles away from their Santee, S.C. and Camden County, Ga. homes respectively. The two friends are at the prestigious Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and Brian Gary, also a friend, biology major and SC State alumnus, decided to be a part of the journey too.

Unlike Washington and Mainor, however, Gary, a 2010 graduate of SC State who was admitted to Georgetown University on a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)  fellowship, doesn’t shy away from city life. “I’m familiar with the city life because I have family in New York,” says Gary.“But I guess that just being surrounded by different people and new faces can be intimidating.” Regardless of Brian’s familiarity, the three SC State graduates were admittedly trepid with their initial arrival at Georgetown University, but they all made it to the top ranking institution because of their work ethic and the preparation they received at their Alma Mater, SC State University.

Twenty-two year old Melinda Washington’s preparedness started during her freshman year when she completed an internship with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “I obtained that through the SCAMP program,” says Washington. “I did my research on the microbiology field, and after taking Dr. Stukes’ (associate professor) microbiology class, that gave me the background information that I needed for the internship.”


Washington continued her success with internships each summer, including the USDA in Athens, Ga., in the chemistry department at the University of South Carolina (USC) and in the entomology and molecular biology labs at SC State. “All of the research experience gave me a fall back plan,” says the rising dentist. While Washington will receive her master’s degree from Georgetown University in microbiology/immunology in nine months, her ultimate goal is to attend dental school. “I’ll be done in May,” says Washington. “Now I’ll have a master’s program that will distinguish me from others and will give me additional preparation for dental school.”

Although Washington’s path is vivid now, prior to attending the 155th ranked university among the top 400 universities in the world, as listed by U.S. News and World Report, Washington wasn’t always comfortable in the lab setting, but one mentor says Washington’s talent was keen. “I remember her being very anxious when she did electroporation,” says Dr. Waltena Simpson, associate professor in SC State’s Department of Biological and Physical Sciences. According to Simpson, electroporation is giving bacteria an electric shock, enough to introduce DNA into them but not enough to kill the bacteria. “That was her first time,” says Simpson. “She had worked there a lot less than my other students.”

Nevertheless, Simpson admired Washington. “She picked up complex concepts very easily and she was able to demonstrate an in-depth understanding, which is important for someone pursuing graduate studies,” says Simpson. “She was hard working, committed and very dedicated, and that’s why I selected her to work in my laboratory in spring 2011.”

Those are also the primary reasons why Simpson encouraged Washington to apply to Georgetown University. “She had some doubts about attending dental school immediately, and I think I was able to give her the benefit of my experience, and I told her how ready I thought she was for graduate school and how I thought this was something that she could do.”

Washington wasn’t alone. Her confidant also strived for this opportunity. Mainor, a member of the Student Government Association (SGA), the Health Professions Society, the Honors College and the Golden Key International Honours Society, prepared for Georgetown University by completing a summer preparatory program in Dr. Stukes’ class. “It was six weeks of intense work,” says Mainor. “The work and the work load are similar to what I am doing now. In the course, we would have lectures everyday of the week and we would have study sessions and tutoring sessions.”

Shela MainorMainor, a biohazardous threat agents and emerging infectious diseases major at Georgetown University, says that she would like to one day be admitted to medical school. In fact, Mainor is passionate about the field. “Going into my senior year of high school, my grandmother passed away. I felt that some things could have been done differently as far as how the hospital handled things. Everything was not of quality and it was rushed,” emphasizes Mainor.

Losing a family member spurred Mainor’s interest in science, and according to her, SC State was the first step in giving her the acumen essential to succeed in a competitive field. She goes on and on about her mentors, like Dr. Stukes and Juan Maultsby and Mary White of the Honors College, and the feelings are  reciprocal.

“Shela is wonderful. She is dedicated,” says Mary White, administrative specialist for the Honors College. “She has a lot of integrity. She has great initiative. She can work independently. She can work in a group. She is a great motivator for other students. She speaks intelligently, writes intelligently and she is trustworthy. She was also my Golden Key fundraiser and coordinator. I can go on for days.” White also spouts the same compliments for Washington.

Brian Gary, the lone male who followed his SC State counterparts to Georgetown University, has an array of strengths too, but this biotechnology major and future obstetrician often marvels at his current situation. “I couldn’t believe that I was really there,” says Gary of his first day on the Georgetown University campus. “Based on its history and the level of prestige, this is an achievement, just to be among them and getting an education from their school.”

Though amazed by the university that he now calls home, Gary can never deny the education that SC State provided. “At SC State, I was involved in the Health Professions Society. I completed volunteer work with Dr. Stukes as well. He really got my feet wet,” says Gary, an Andrews, S.C. native. “I mentored for Dr. Salley. She gave me that opportunity which allowed me to give back to SC State to a certain degree. I also completed lab work for Dr. Rizana Mahroof. In addition, there was a shadowing program that gave me experience in the adult medicine field.”

Mahroof, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, is proud to call Gary, Washington and Mainor former students. Gary waited to attend Georgetown in order to receive his full fellowship, but Mahroof  vividly recalls Gary’s evolvement in the field. “Brian worked the longest in my lab of the three,” says Mahroof. Mahroof states that initially Gary wasn’t sure of his goal, but after working in the lab and becoming more involved, the choice was imminent. “I am an entomologist, and study the science of insects. One of the projects we worked with was managing stored product insect populations in food and feed processing facilities in the state of S.C. He played a key role in that project. Brian was involved in monitoring insect activities and treating facilities using a technique known as ‘mating disruption.’”

Brian GaryBrian Gary, ’10, pictured back row, second from left


Mahroof also remembers Dec. 2010 when Gary was charged with presenting his findings at the 68th Professional Agricultural Workers Conference at Tuskegee University in Alabama. After working with Gary for over two years, she also says, “Brian is organized. He is focused and follows instructions. A good researcher always follows instructions carefully and pays attention to detail. He’s a team player and a nice person to get along with.” Mahroof also says that Washington and Mainor were great students. Punctuality and intelligence were their strongest attributes.


While Washington, Mainor and Gary are working hard to prove themselves at Georgetown University, there are two advocates at SC State who know their full potential-Dr. Stukes and Dr. Judith Salley, department chair for the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.


"The Department of Biological and Physical Sciences has excellent faculty and staff who are committed to preparing our undergraduate majors to compete on a national and global level,” says Salley.  “These three students are shining examples of that excellence.  We are extremely proud of each of them and look forward to the outstanding contributions they will make as future scientists and health professionals."


Stukes concurs, stating, “We know that they will be very successful in their endeavors as SC State has prepared them to prosper in the most competitive settings. It was challenging here and they met that challenge. I am assured that they will do the same at Georgetown University.”