Mercy College Biology Students Win National Recognition for Research Skills and Academic Excellence

Biology students at conference

This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Spring 2020 was a very good semester for Mercy’s undergraduate biology program.

Within a span of 30 days during the month of April, four students — Isabella Hanesworth ’22, Patrick Elysee ’20, Billy Nguyen ’20 and graduate student Sydney Sieh-Takata — earned extraordinary recognition for their research talents and scholarly abilities.

The students’ achievements began with a team presentation at the annual Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference, which took place virtually in mid-April. Days later the group presented a poster at the Allied Genetics Conference 2020 (TAGC), for which Elysee and Hanesworth won coveted undergraduate travel awards. Rounding out the month, Nguyen received an offer for a fully funded slot in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. program at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

“Over the years Mercy students have made great strides in the biomedical sciences, but this year they performed exceptionally well,” said Chun Zhou, assistant professor of natural sciences. He called Nguyen’s offer from the highly regarded Rush University “exciting,” and praised Elysee, Hanesworth and Sieh-Takata for their teamwork and presentation skills.

“These students appreciate the beauty of scientific research — the ability to unravel the truth of natural phenomena,” said Zhou. “But the moment of greatness might have been lost had the students not been persistent and resilient in their hard work.” At the TAGC conference, the student presenters pitted their research and presentation skills against students, postdoctoral fellows and scientists from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. The event was sponsored by The Genetics Society of America (GSA), the professional organization for scientific researchers and educators in the field of genetics.

This year GSA selected Hanesworth, a sophomore, for its prestigious Victoria Finnerty Travel Award, aimed at sponsoring promising undergraduate researchers who present at TAGC. Hanesworth’s research focuses on regulating genes in Drosophila melanogaster. Nationwide, only 14 students received the travel award.

Elysee, who graduated in May, was awarded the FASEB DREAM Mentored Poster/Platform Presenter Award. This specialized award from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) provides promising students and postdocs with resources, opportunities, mentoring, and professional development.

Zhou cited Ngyuen’s strong interest in biology research as a key component of his suitability for the highly regarded program at Rush. “Mercy professors encourage students to address research with a clear open mind so they can interpret the data without bias. Billy is highly motivated and persistent, which are good qualities for researchers. He also has an open mind and is very creative in identifying solutions to any problem he approached.” Sieh-Takata, a part-time graduate student, successfully led the team platform presentation at the ninth annual Westchester Undergraduate Research Conference and is pursuing a career as a medical illustrator.