Published September 30, 2013
As a new University at Buffalo doctoral student who aspires to find treatments or cures for neurodegenerative diseases, Kerri Pryce is off to an impressive start.
He’s one of only two students in New York state to earn a 2013-2014 SUNY Doctoral Diversity Fellowship in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
And, at the invitation of UB President Satish K. Tripathi, he recently served on a panel discussion about diversity and STEM fields for Critical Conversations, a university forum on world issues.
Pryce was inspired to pursue a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology by his grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
“Pharmacology is a unique science,” he says. “It allows me to do the research I love but also develop medication and pharmaceutics to help the people I care for.”
To reach his goal, he’s making good use of UB’s resources and learning opportunities.
In addition to his courses, Pryce conducts research in the lab of Arin Bhattacharjee, PhD, associate professor.
There, researchers focus on sodium-activated potassium channels as they try to identify novel therapeutic targets for the treatment of chronic pain. Pryce himself is working to determine the mechanisms that traffic these channels to the membrane of pain-sensing neurons.
He’s also a scholar in UB’s Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) program.
He describes CLIMB as an “intellectually diverse” professional development program that gives him the opportunity to go beyond academics, build a resume and learn to become more competitive in the working world.
Pryce says he choose UB partly because of the university’s—and his department’s—“fantastic teaching and research reputation.”
The welcoming atmosphere he experienced on his first campus visit impressed him, he adds—and that first impression has endured.
“I am truly happy to be here,” Pryce says, noting that the supportive faculty are open to different ideas.
“Attending my classes and interacting with my professors, mentor and fellow students are all helping to reinforce that I made the right decision.”
Pryce’s fellowship is one of several State University of New York initiatives designed to increase the number of historically underrepresented professionals in STEM fields.
The award from the SUNY Office of Diversity, Education and Inclusion supports exceptional students with a $20,000 stipend plus $2,000 for research and professional development.
“Fellowships like this facilitate the development of a diverse workforce, while allowing students such as Kerri to realize their dreams and make a difference,” says Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, chair of pharmacology and toxicology.
“An intellectually and culturally diverse community of students, faculty and staff in the STEM disciplines is necessary to achieve excellence in research, technology and health care,” adds Dubocovich, senior associate dean for inclusion and cultural enhancement in the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Pryce was exposed to STEM fields at an early age in his native Jamaica and became fascinated by science as an adolescent.
“It’s a different system in Jamaica,” he says. “By the end of ninth grade, we basically chose our career path. Of course, we could change our course as we went along, but because science was something I loved, I kept on doing it.”
He experienced major financial hardships when he left Jamaica to attend Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.
“My mom underestimated how much it would cost, and we had to adjust to that,” he says, adding that they made many sacrifices during his undergraduate years.
“It was the hardest time, but I would do it again because of the experiences I had.”
During college, Pryce researched the effects of octopamine on the heart rate of the eastern oyster.
His project won second place in the biological sciences division at the University at Maryland’s 13th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences.
He also was named Medgar Evers’ 2011 Scholar-Athlete of the Year, in part for his accomplishments in soccer and track.
After graduating from college, Pryce worked as a Medicare operations specialist for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, helping senior citizens get the most from their health insurance benefits and manage their health care.
As he fulfills his promise as a pharmaceutical researcher, he pictures a brighter future for these patients and others facing health challenges.
“When I think of my grandmother, I try not to think about all she has lost due to Alzheimer’s,” he says.
“Instead, I look forward to the day when others like her can make memories they will cherish forever.”