Luke Hess.

Senior biochemistry student Luke Hess has earned a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Jacobs School Students Feted for Academic Excellence

By Dirk Hoffman

Published May 8, 2024

Seventeen students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences were honored for outstanding achievements during the University at Buffalo’s 2024 Celebration of Student Academic Excellence.

“Your accomplishments are the result of your tireless dedication to your scholarly pursuits. You represent some of UB’s most talented and ambitious students, and we are delighted to honor your commitment to the highest ideals of our university. ”
UB president

The awardees were among students from disciplines across the university who were awarded — or nominated for — national, State University of New York (SUNY) and UB awards.

The May 2 event began with the Student Showcase, where 325 undergraduate and graduate students presented more than 240 mentored research, scholarship, creative and community projects at Alumni Arena on UB’s North Campus. 

National Science Foundation Fellowship Honors

Undergraduate student Luke Hess, a senior biochemistry major, was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The award provides three years of support ($40,000 per year plus tuition waiver and fees) for graduate study leading to research-based master’s or doctoral degrees in mathematical, physical, biological, engineering, and behavioral and social sciences.

Hess will pursue a doctoral degree in cancer biology at the University of Michigan.

At the Jacobs School, he conducted research in the lab of Jennifer A. Surtees, PhD, professor of biochemistry, and at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center under Katerina Gurova, MD, PhD.

“This award feels like the culmination of all the hard work I completed over the past four years. But it also made me look retrospectively at the numerous people who poured into me during my time here,” Hess said. 

“Because of that I need to thank Dr. Jennifer Surtees and Dr. Katerina Gurova, whose mentorship sparked my passion for cancer research. They allowed me to take independence over my research project which promoted intellectual curiosity and pride in my work. Without them I would not have found my love for cancer biology, mentorship and teaching.”

Hess joined the Surtees lab during his sophomore year and began his independent project early on in his junior year. His research pertains to understanding genomic instability and characterizing next-generation chemotherapies, called chromatin damaging agents.

“Alongside our wet lab work, we are required to take classes which teach us how to read, break down, and present scientific literature. This work became extremely beneficial during the spring of my junior year where students are required to write a seven-page research proposal which they will execute and present at the end of their senior year,” he said.

“Funny enough, while writing my research proposal and going through current literature, I stumbled onto a second research question which became the basis for my NSF GRFP research statement.”

“Because of my coursework, I get to see past the ordinary person and look within them. I get to understand the beautiful and efficient mechanisms that have led to who they are,” Hess said. “Knowing that within each person is a remarkable beauty ignites my passion for biochemistry.”

Hess said he found he deeply enjoyed the study of cancer biology for two reasons: the field’s ever-changing landscape and the clinical relevance. 

“Cancer is an extremely dynamic disorder that takes over the beautiful processes I referred to earlier, to stay alive in an extremely hostile environment. The ever-changing mechanisms of how cancer evades destruction allow me to have research interests in every discipline of science.”

“I also really enjoy it when my research has a deep translational focus. By studying cancer biology, I am adding directly to our clinical ability to treat and understand this disease,” Hess said. “Furthermore, cancer has personally touched my family, which pushes me to fight this disease and dedicate my studies to it.”

Thomas Joseph Gerald Mousso, a trainee in the doctoral program in computational cell biology, anatomy and pathology, was an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship nominee.

Pair of Students Win NIH F31 Individual Fellowships

Two students, both trainees in the doctoral program in microbiology and immunology, received a National Institutes of Health F31 Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award.

They are:

  • David Hunter Goich
  • Stevie Taddei

The purpose of the NIH F31 is to enable promising predoctoral students with potential to develop into productive, independent research scientists to obtain mentored research training while conducting dissertation research.

American Heart Association Awards

Two students won American Heart Association Predoctoral Fellowship awards.

They are:

The AHA Predoctoral Fellowship aims to enhance the integrated research and clinical training of promising students who are matriculated in pre-doctoral or clinical health professional degree training programs and who intend careers as scientists, physician-scientists or other clinician-scientists, or related careers aimed at improving global cardiovascular, cerebrovascular and brain health.

Rachel Esther Sanyu.

Undergraduate student Rachel Esther Sanyu won multiple awards at the Celebration of Academic Excellence, including UB’s inaugural McCall MacBain Scholarship.

Taking on Roles in Leadership

Rachel Esther Sanyu, a senior pharmacology and toxicology major, received several honors, most notably winning UB’s inaugural McCall MacBain Scholarship.

The $10,000 award brings together exceptional students who strive to engage in positive change by taking on meaningful leadership roles.

McCall MacBain Scholars connect with mentors and participate in an interdisciplinary leadership program while pursuing a fully funded master’s or professional degree at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Sanyu was also a nominee for a Rhodes Scholarship, the oldest and most celebrated scholarship in the world.

The award enables students to study for two years at Oxford University. Each year, recipients are chosen for their outstanding scholarly achievements, character, commitment to others and the common good, and for their leadership potential in whatever domain their careers may lead.

Bryan R. Renzoni.

Bryan R. Renzoni was one of four senior undergraduate students within the Jacobs School to receive a 2024 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the highest honor bestowed upon a student by SUNY.

Undergraduates Earn SUNY Chancellor’s Award

Undergraduate students Sarah Bukhari, Lea Kyle, Bryan R. Renzoni and Rachel Esther Sanyu were named winners of a 2024 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.

The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence was created in 1997 to recognize students who have best demonstrated and have been recognized for outstanding achievements in such areas as academics, leadership, athletics, community service, creative and performing arts, campus involvement or career achievement. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a student by SUNY.

Bukhari will graduate with a bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry. She is an undergraduate researcher in the lab of Jennifer A. Surtees, PhD, professor of biochemistry. Bukhari secured funding from the Experiential Learning Network and a Mentored Research micro-credential.

Beyond academics, the Grand Island, New York, native is deeply involved in community engagement, serving as both the volunteer coordinator and vice president of the largest student-run pre-health organization, the Association of Pre-Medical Students, and was awarded a Community Engagement micro-credential and gathering 500+ volunteer hours.

With dual roles as dance coach and social media coordinator for the Pakistani Student Association, she fosters a network of communities to embrace diversity and celebrate traditions.

A native of Martville, New York, Kyle is a University Honors College Scholar who graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry with minors in both physics and public health.

She has been a Student Association, Recreation Department, Student Engagement and TASS Center employee. She also is the current president of UB Rotaract, a volunteering club on campus.

Kyle is also a student researcher in the Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyElizabeth A. Wohlfert, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, focusing on the effects of chronic inflammation on muscle function due to chronic infection..

Renzoni, of East Amherst, New York, graduates with a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry. He is a University Honors College Presidential Scholar and Honors College Ambassador.

A BioXFEL Scholar, he has received multiple research internship positions and worked in two different laboratories, contributing to work on the development of novel organic and organometallic compounds with applications as cancer therapies.

Renzoni has also served as a co-chair of the G14 Leadership Summit, president and executive adviser of UB ChemClub, and both assistant music director and music director of The Enchords, UB’s all-gender a cappella group.

Sanyu, an international student from Uganda, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology and toxicology.

She is an Honors College Scholar who conducted oncology research within the lab of Wendy Huss, PhD, at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and at Johnson & Johnson, where she earned the 2023 Inspire Spotlight Award.

Sanyu has also worked as a student assistant in the Office of Interprofessional Education and an honors peer mentor. 

She is a founder of a health care app and is involved with the community through her work with Suubi Cancer Relief and Hillside Family of Agencies.

Sanyu also loves to dance and was a member of the UBMystique and 8-Count dance teams.

Three Students Win SUNY GREAT Awards

Three students received the SUNY Graduate Research Empowering and Accelerating Talent (GREAT) Award.

They are:

The SUNY GREAT awards recognize students who were selected as recipients or honorable mentions for federal awards sponsored by agencies including the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and U.S. Department of Energy, among others.

Students receive $5,000 in flexible funding for research expenses, professional development, and stipend supplements. 

Lea Kyle.

In addition to winning a 2024 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, Lea Kyle won a UB the Impact Award and was a nominee for a Fulbright Scholarship and a George J. Mitchell Scholarship for Study in Ireland.

Scholarships and Other Awards

Other awards were:

Critical Language Scholarship

Fulbright Scholarship

Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship

  • Owen Daniel Szeglowski, an undergraduate biochemistry and chemistry dual major (nominee)

George J. Mitchell Scholarship for Study in Ireland

  • Lea Kyle, an undergraduate biochemistry major (nominee)

UB Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creativity Awards (Graduate Division)

UB Excellence in Research, Scholarship and Creativity Awards (Undergraduate Division)

  • Ilsa G. Kloiber, neuroscience
  • Rachel Esther Sanyu, pharmacology and toxicology

UB Sigma Xi “Companions in Zealous Research” Award

Sigma Xi is an international honor society of science and engineering. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public’s understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Three winning projects are selected.

  • Katie Sortino, PhD, a postdoctoral associate in microbiology and immunology

Celebration Ceremony Recognizes Honors

After the Student Showcase, the community gathered in Slee Hall at 3 p.m. for the Celebration Ceremony, a tradition that recognizes UB students who received prestigious awards and fellowships during the academic year. UB President Satish K. Tripathi, PhD, kicked off the celebration with welcoming remarks.

“Your accomplishments are the result of your tireless dedication to your scholarly pursuits,” Tripathi said. “I know all of us here today are so proud to see you receive this much-deserved recognition. You represent some of UB’s most talented and ambitious students, and we are delighted to honor your commitment to the highest ideals of our university.”

A. Scott Weber, PhD, UB’s provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, also spoke of the outstanding scholarship, research, creativity and community engagement represented among the day’s honorees.

“I am delighted to see how you utilize the transformative learning opportunities that shape UB’s culture, discovery and innovation,” Weber said. “As students, you forge dynamic academic partnerships with distinguished faculty to conduct research and scholarship that produces new knowledge, inspires invention, contributes to the national discourse, transforms lives and makes the world a better place.”

Sarah Bukhari.

Undergraduate student Sarah Bukhari won a 2024 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, and at the Pillars of Leadership Awards ceremony, a UB the Impact Award and a Visions of Social Justice Award.

Trio Receives Pillars of Leadership Awards

At UB’s Pillars of Leadership Awards ceremony on April 25, three Jacobs School undergraduates were also recognized.

Sarah Bukhari, Luke Hess and Lea Kyle each received a UB the Impact Award, which recognizes students who have performed and tracked 500 hours of community service during their time as UB students. 

These students have demonstrated a strong commitment to giving back to their community. Through their volunteer work, these students have made a significant positive impact on the lives of others and have gained valuable skills and experiences that will serve them well in their future endeavors. Their dedication and hard work are a testament to the values of the university and the importance of service to others.

Bukhari was also the only UB undergraduate student to be honored with a Visions of Social Justice Award, which recognizes students who have demonstrated compassion, perseverance, courage, and leadership by engaging in the difficult work of fostering human dignity and common humanity through projects, programs, initiatives, and visions that promote cross-cultural learning, interaction and education. 

Hess was one of only two UB students to receive a Dorothy M. Haas Community Engagement Award, which honors students who have demonstrated a philosophy of leadership through service and investment in the growth and development of others. 

Also recognized was Trinithas Jeanne Boyi, a fourth-year medical student, who was honored with the UB Pride & Service Award (Graduate) for students who are devoted to the UB community and strive to make it better for all students. 

Gina Mersereau, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Health degree with a concentration in community health and health behavior, was awarded the Outstanding Community Impact Award (Graduate), which honors a student that has given their time and energy to strengthen partnerships between UB and the Buffalo community.