Kwabena Acheampong

Major: Biology

Thesis Title: Exploring the Relationship Between Telomere Lengthening Mechanisms and Genetic Ancestry in African American and European American Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Personal Statement

Lafayette took a chance on me. Prior to my acceptance, I doubted myself and whether I would be capable of contributing to this community. However, Lafayette did not see me as a number. I was not seen as a standardized test score. The admissions process gave me hope that, one day, I could give back to the community that took a chance on me to join its family. I wanted to do that with intention and put myself in spaces that other prospective students and current students alike could see someone who looked like them or someone who came from a different background but still welcomed and included their experiences with open arms. I used this mentality in my approach to conduct health disparities research looking at disease burden on African Americans. As a Resident Advisor (RA), I tended to my residents needs and as a Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader helped students study smarter and achieve their desired grades. During the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, I worked with the intention to collaborate with a Lafayette sports team and other schools to raise awareness and over $3,900 dollars for the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) to fight racial injustice and police brutality in the US justice system. The beauty of all of the things that I have participated in is that I did not do them by myself. I did them with my compassionate mentors and motivated peers who shared that same inclusive, welcoming and at times daring mentality to make a difference in people’s lives not only here on campus but around the country. Through research, teaching, learning and service, my efforts here at Lafayette have strived to be the extension for those who fought so tirelessly before me and the infrastructure for those to come after me.

Academic Activity |years involved|

Honors Thesis Candidate/Health Disparities Researcher in Dr. Mitchell’s Integrative and Translational Laboratory of Applied Biology, IT LAB |2.5|: Initially, I was not supposed to join the lab this early due to another research opportunity off-campus. Unfortunately, Covid-19 canceled that opportunity. After talking with my mentor Dr. Mitchell about my budding interest and passion for health disparities research, we both agreed cur non start conducting the research I would have begun in the fall of 2020 during the summer of 2020. In the Summer of 2020, I started researching in the Integrative and Translational Laboratory of Applied Biology (IT LAB) as a Gateway Summer Stipend Research Fellow looking specifically at health disparities that burden African Americans in lung cancer. My research focused on Telomere Lengthening mechanisms and West African Ancestry in African American males with Lung Adenocarcinoma (LUAD). I transitioned to become an Independent Research student during the academic year in fall 2020. This research evolved into my honors thesis proposal which I defended and am currently working toward as an Honors Thesis Candidate Exploring the Relationship Between Telomere Lengthening Mechanisms and Genetic Ancestry in African American and European American Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. During my time in IT LAB, I have given 6 research talks (3 regional, 1 state, 2 national), presented 2 research posters (2 campus), received 2 research awards and secured local and national research funding. I always wanted to look at diseases that heavily burdened people that looked like me. I have two parents from Ghana which drives my passion for this research and makes it real for me. It was a privilege to work in a lab that allowed me to share my own desires and passions to ameliorate disease burden for those in the Black diaspora with its own passion to do the same.

1st Place, 97th Meeting of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science at DeSales University |1| I won this award for best presentation and research topic at the state-wide Pennsylvania Academy of Sciences. I was humbled to see the reception this important health disparities work received to have been considered and selected for this award. It validates all the hard work and effort we are putting in to find new therapeutic solutions for the heavily burdened African American patient population in lung cancer.

2nd Place, Frank G. Brooks Award for Excellence in Student Research at Tri Beta Northeast Region-II Regional Conference |1| I won this award for excellence in student research. This prize was awarded to me at my first talk that I had ever given at a regional conference. It was humbling to have received this award with my IT Lab peer Joelle Rabin-Court. It was the first regional conference awards received by the Chi Chi Chapter of Tri Beta here at Lafayette College.

Tri-Beta National Biological Honor Society National Research Grant |2| My grant proposal was selected for my honors thesis project on Exploring the Relationship Between Telomere Lengthening Pathways and Genetic Ancestry in African-American and European-American Patients with Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. I was excited to receive this national funding as it allowed me to expand my aims and protocols within my honors thesis.

Lafayette College Gateway Summer Stipend Research Grant |2|I received funding from this program two summers in a row (2020, 2021). I was able to leverage this for both research on and off campus. In summer 2021, this funded my research off campus on a health disparities project Evaluating Immunoregulatory Cells in Patients with High and Low Donor Myeloid Chimerism in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease. This also funded my research the prior summer when I initially joined IT Lab working on the project Investigating the Higher Prevalence of TERT and TERC Gene Expression, Somatic Copy Number Variation, Telomerase Activity, and Telomere Length in Lung Adenocarcinomas from African American Males and European American Males.

Summer Intramural Research Training Award (IRTA) Fellow in Dr. Fitzhugh’s Laboratory of Early Sickle Mortality Prevention at NIH-NHLBI |1| This experience starts before the Summer of 2021. My first year at Lafayette College I went on a full tour of the NIH and specifically the NHLBI where we heard from a variety of Principal Investigators and post-baccalaureate researchers who were Lafayette Alumni. I met Dr. Courtney Fitzhugh during that visit to the NIH and learned about her research in Sickle cell disease. I interviewed with members of her lab after I sent an email the following year showing interest in joining her lab for Early Sickle Mortality Prevention. I was asked to join the lab that summer however Covid-19 resulted in the cancellation of all summer internships. Gladly, I was able to join the lab in the Summer of 2021 focused on Evaluating Immunoregulatory Cells in Patients with High and Low Donor Myeloid Chimerism in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease who were transplanted on our new haploidentical protocol. It was inspiring to continue to work in line with my passion and in a lab that focuses on a disease that disproportionately burdens African Americans.

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow w/ Dr. Brain Lewis at UMass Medical School |1| This summer research was switched to be a virtual one that I still enjoyed working on some interesting topics for. My project with my other team members was to propose a repurposed technological treatment protocol for Covid-19 patients. Our project focused on Optimizing the Anti-Inflammatory Effect of Low Dose Radiation Therapy for SARS-CoV-2 Patients. We received an award for the research topic we chose and I was a summer research spotlight for UMass Medical School’s summer programs press release.  

Peer Educator Lead, Academic Resource hub |1|I wanted to support the academic resource hub in bringing on a new position that supported and guided the other student leaders within the academic resource hub. This Peer Lead role intends to assist pee leaders to reach their individual goals and their overall goal to support their students in learning new effective study strategies and techniques. The role also works within various digital materials to transform marketing and media presence of the academic resource hub and can be leveraged by the individual peer leaders as well. These materials are used to help the peer leaders engage the student population at larger and encourage their participation in peer guided sessions or one on one sessions. This role was the first of its iteration and we have worked to ensure it will be implemented in the resource hub curriculum.

Supplemental Instruction Leader, Academic Resource hub |1.5| My passion for mentorship and guiding those toward more effective ways of reaching their goals aligned well with my work as an SI leader. I connected with students in the Biomolecular Foundations of Biology (BIOL 112) and assisted them with interactive activities and study strategies to help them gain the most knowledge they could from the course and obtain their highest grade. It was rewarding to be a mentor and see some of those I mentor becoming SI leaders in their own right.

President, Chi Chi Chapter of Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society |1.5| This role oversees all executive board and chapter activities. I oversaw and led executive board meetings that are held weekly. I saw fit to support and encourage other leaders within the executive board to spearhead specific projects and events to foster a collaborative environment. I supported and taught logistical strategies to identify needs the chapter has and turn those needs into events that could benefit the chapter. We were able to officially have a Virtual Induction Ceremony despite our issues with Covid-19 in the Spring of 2021. We inducted 65+ members during that induction ceremony alone. We were able to conduct and co-sponsor events with L.E.A.D.E.R.S and the Gateway Career Center in Resume/CV building and multi-media professionalism development. Other events we had under my tenure such as Course Registration events to support younger students and Women in STEM tea that highlighted trailblazing professors and students making an impact in our community. As one of the most interactive honor societies on campus, we have cultivated a community of scholars who are interested in a variety of topics within Biology/Neuroscience to make an environment that embraces diversity, supports its peers and strives for great academic achievement.

Campus Service |years involved|

Campus Ambassador, Department of Admissions |0.5| It was important to me that those prospective students knew that they had a chance at Lafayette. I wanted to be a part of the Admissions family to give back what they had so graciously given me, which was hope. Coming to Lafayette, I was not the most awarded or acclaimed student. However, Lafayette’s admission process that took a holistic approach to evaluating my application resulted in my admittance. I could not believe it. Therefore, I took this opportunity to share my story of having a 2.7 cumulative GPA and a below 1300 SAT score which were both out of Lafayette College’s range to encourage students from all backgrounds that there is a place for them at Lafayette. As long as you have compassion, integrity and determination, at Lafayette you will always find a home, as I did.

Resident Advisor, Office of Residence Life |3| As an RA I have been able to engage with residents from all class levels throughout my three years. I have worked with first year students, my own peers within the same class and as a senior engaged in community building with those from young class years. I take my mentorship roles very seriously and I always wanted to be the RA that my RA was to me. My RA was someone who was understanding and compassionate while also holding me accountable as a community member. That is the same perspective that I take into my role to ensure that I promote an inclusive and close-knit community. I have tried to impact my communities with unique programming events that have focused on celebrating women in STEM, highlighting holidays from other cultures that we do not talk about, and many other workshops and lectures about current events and life skills. This role has been quite rewarding to get to know many residents and help them navigate their good and tough times. I have also learned a tremendous amount about myself from my residents. This flexible mentorship model has helped me become a better listener and develop a higher level of compassion for the context of students and people in general. I truly believe I have grown significantly since I first started this role.

Co-Founded Inclusion committee, Department of Biology |1|There needed to be a change. As an underrepresented student within the Biology department, I saw fit to work with other students and faculty to establish a committee that would focus its efforts on establishing actionable core values and mission statements that could serve as the infrastructure for a supportive and inclusive environment within the department at all levels.

Co-Founded DEI Co-chair and the committee, Chi Phi Rho |2| There was a need. A need to treat inclusion seriously and much like we treat other topics such as brotherhood and academic excellence. We needed a position and committee focused on ensuring that all members of this fraternity were being trained and made aware of all our implicit biases. To be able to engage in tough conversations about topics that may or may not directly impact you but to still be engaged nevertheless was our goal. We implemented a 4-event DEI New member education program that leveraged Safe Zone certification, Multicultural (MCT) training and topics from and about the UnDocufund and intersectionality workshops with kaleidoscope leaders. This carried on into our monthly DEI curriculum that focused on both short- and long-term inclusivity goals for the chapter.

Co-Founded DEI Greek Committee, Pan-Greek Life |2| Having brought this to my own chapter, I worked with the same members of Greek life who had voiced in their own chapters to bring a committee together that can support all of Greek life in our collective efforts to become a more inclusive community and environment on campus. We worked to create bylaws and a constitution with a 3-year plan that focused on trying to implement an Assistance fund that would break the financial barriers that are ever present in joining Greek life. We worked with co-chairs of DEI from all the current chapters. These bi-weekly meetings allowed for transfer of knowledge about programs that worked in some chapters and feedback for other chapters that struggled with program ideas. We worked to create a curriculum of DEI that all chapters could use and leverage to improve DEI engagement and participation. It was significantly important to consolidate all the DEI representatives to help streamline the support for chapters alike in their efforts with DEI awareness and engagement.

Director of Emotional/Spiritual Wellness, LiveWell |1.5|I began to get into wellness when I went on a health sciences career track in Boston, MA. Hearing wellness speakers, specifically a Lafayette alum, talk about how impactful focusing on their wellness was inspired me to take that message and practice with me back to Lafayette. I applied to be a LiveWell member and within a week I was named the Director of the Emotional/Spiritual Wellness Committee. We focused on incorporating wellness in the realms of emotional support and self-care and spiritual exploration through various events and student derived tools. Some of these said tools came from alumni events that were moderated by the same Lafayette alum who had inspired me to get actively involved with wellness back on campus. In addition, I saw fit to work with the Wellness Coordinator to establish the incorporation of a marketing committee to improve student engagement through animated flyers and a revamped social media presence. The flyers were quite successful at increasing attendance for events and the social media following tripled in size during my time with LiveWell.

Student Testing Assistant, Bailey’s Health Center & Lehigh Valley Health Network |0.5| I wanted to do my part to help the community return to campus during the pandemic while trying to fight the spread of Covid-19 and allow for us to stay on campus. I heard about the testing center position prior to coming back to school and applied immediately to help our school’s dedicated healthcare force in conducting institution-wide weekly testing in partnership with the Lehigh Valley Health Network. We managed the packaging of these test kits, scheduled testing appointments and worked with logistical teams to ship out hundreds of self-administered PCR samples back to the testing labs. It was rewarding to be a part of and work with some many other students who wanted to help keep the community covid-free and support our efforts to being back on campus full time.

Peer Tutor, Academic Resource HUB |1| In this role I took mentorship to a different level. I was able to work with students on a one-on-one level and focus on their specific needs. Giving back to the community in this way was important to me as I was one who grew up in elementary school and needed to have one on one sessions to truly grasp the intricacies of English and reading. To be able to support students on an individual level and support their learning through tutoring has been another rewarding experience. That experience was taken into account when I helped the academic resource hub construct the framework for the Peer Educator Lead position.

Treasurer, Chi Chi Chapter of Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society |0.5| This role entailed dealing with the chapter’s funds while finding new and innovative ways of raising funds as we did not officially have a budget from the student government as a very new honor society to campus. As treasurer, I wanted to implement a variety of different things to help ensure we had a financial structure that could be built upon for years to come. I proposed the concept of Chi Chi Assistance Fund that would be an amount of funds set aside for Tri Beta potential new members who were in need of financial assistance to pay their chapter dues to be inducted into the society. I proposed to create a fund with the biology department. I proposed to also create a merchandise store that would allow members to purchase items that could help raise funds for the Chi Chi Assistance Fund. We were able to complete our first ever student government budget proposal that would subsequently be submitted by the executive board while I was president.

Community Service |years involved|

#WEAREONETEAM campaign, Black Lives Matter protests against institutional racism |1.5 | My sophomore year of my high school experience our summer reading was the book Just Mercy by renowned author, lawyer and civil rights leader Bryan Stevenson. We had many discussions about the work that his Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) had done to combat police brutality and racial injustice within the judicial system in the US. When these topics came to the forefront of our society during the pandemic with the Black Lives Matter movement, I struggled to see how I would make an impact while in quarantine. Originally, my two close friends and I joked about making a clothing line and raising money. But we quickly realized that people would support our cause because at the end of the day we all were just on the same team. This is where the campaign’s name came from, #WEAREONETEAM. We realized we wanted to raise money for an organization that’s work was dedicated to solving the issues with racial injustice since its inception, that organization was easily identified as the EJI. We also saw this as an opportunity to not only raise awareness at Lafayette college but also at University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College, both of which had significant support from their athletic departments helping to advertise and fundraise. Our first initiative sold 199 shirts (with a goal of 150) and raised $2,090 dollars toward the EJI. This was done within a week of our launch. We wanted to launch another campaign based on the success we had the first time. The second campaign we were able to collaborate with the Lafayette Men’s Lacrosse team. Together, we sold 176 shirts (with a goal of 150) and raised $1,830 dollars toward the EJI’s efforts as well. These initiatives were very successful and got some exposure via Lafayette College communications, UPenn and Middlebury Athletic Programs. It was inspiring to see the support we got and it only encouraged us to continue to push for social justice conversations and initiatives for something that meant too much to us and many people around the country and world.

Athletic Activity |years involved|

Associate Supervisor Intramural Sports, Recreation Services |1.5| I experienced so much growth as an Assistant Supervisor that I felt my skills would be transferable to the increased responsibilities of being an Associate Supervisor of Intramural Sports. Planning schedules and events, completing full activity inventory, moving soccer goals across campus in the pouring rain were just some of the tasks that I enjoyed and often laughed while completing them with other supervisors and department managers. I found that working together we often made the undesirable fun and tackling those challenges together, especially during covid, allowed us to engage and promote events that members of campus have enjoyed such as Saturday Night Lights, Competitive basketball seasons and many more. Smiles. If there was one thing, I missed most from this role is seeing the smiles on those who competed in our events or just came to support a friend.

Assistant Supervisor of Intramural Sports, Recreation Services |0.5| I played intramural sports and wanted to increase my responsibilities as a leader within the Rec Services department so applying to be an Assistant Supervisor for Intramural sports was a perfect fit. I brought my knowledge of sports and creativity to the table with different concepts and ideas to engage the students who participate in intramural sports and also those who did not. Whether the events were only for one day or they lasted multiple weeks to consist of a season, we worked together to find new and innovative ways to bring students together through sportsmanship and competition.

Fitness Assistant, Recreation Services |2.5| Growing up I always wanted to go to the gym. I remember seeing my father work out in the basement of our house. When I started getting serious about soccer, I worked out with him religiously during the summers. Being in the gym became a part of me and I wanted to continue doing that here at Lafayette. I wanted to be a part of Rec Services because I saw how effective it was at molding and shaping leaders that were here on campus who also loved to work out and be active. They took their roles seriously and were quick to implement their first aid or CPR training when necessary and that discipline and commitment was something that I wanted to be a part of. I continued to work as an FA even as a supervisor so that should say how much I enjoyed being around other students who wanted to take care of their physical and mental wellness through working out.

Club and Intramural soccer and basketball participant |4| I have played soccer since I was 6 years old. I played travel club soccer and for my varsity team in high school. I had aspirations of walking onto the Lafayette Men’s soccer team however those were cut short due to multiple knee injuries. Luckily, I found another community that enjoyed soccer just as much as I am and I participated in both club soccer and intramural soccer programs here at Lafayette. It has been amazing to compete and share my passion for soccer with others who are just as passionate and at times even more skilled than I. I have enjoyed using soccer as an outlet from the stressors of life during my time here at Lafayette.

Special Interest Activity |years involved|

Dr. and Mrs. Schwimmer ’35 Prize in Honor of Theodore A. Distler |1| Awarded to that Lafayette pre-medical student(s) who best represents humanitarian, cultural, and scientific qualities required of the true physician.

Pre-Medicine Fellow, Summer Health Professions Education Program at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS) |1| This experience was a six-week anatomy and physiology lecture and lab with dissections and analysis on medical cadavers. I gained a great amount of initial clinical exposure through small-group rotations in health care settings, simulation experiences, and seminars. I gained career development skills through seminar sessions directed toward exploration of the health professions, the admissions process, and the development of an individualized education plan. This experience was a key step in my process of developing my young mind toward my path of becoming a physician scientist.

U.N.I.T.E.D. Scholars Research Conference |2| UNdergraduate Inclusive Talks & Posters for Emerging Diverse (U.N.I.T.E.D.) Scholars Research Conference is a conference concept that allows students who do research in any capacity and are from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to present their research at a high level. This project was endowed by the biology department and set to launch in Spring 2023 and endowed in perpetuity. This allows students to gain their experience in giving presentations and talks about their research and help them develop in their communication skills within the STEM and in the humanities. We came up with this idea focused on trying to increase diversity at conferences not only held at Lafayette but equip students with the necessary skills and encourage their confidence to present their research at the state, regional and national levels.

RADM Helena O. Mishoe Fellowship Finalist at NIH-NHLBI |1| This competitive opportunity is a fellowship that focuses on highlighting aspiring scientists from underrepresented communities for the NIH-National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. It offers multiple years of research experience with a focus on cultivating a strong mentor mentee relationship. Fellows within the cohort will also work to support each other in following their passions for improving patient care and treatment options. The final awardees are still to be decided.

Independent Research Student in Dr. Butler’s Lab |0.5| I had wanted to start doing research as early as possible. I was not sure what the research process looked like and when Dr. Butler offered to mentor me in his lab looking at Effects of Biliverdin on Avian Species Immunology I thought, Cur non. I worked with standard curves for testing 64 plasma samples and 24 liver samples measuring oxidative damage (d-ROMs) levels and varying amounts of biliverdin from each sample. Completed an 18-page investigation on upregulation in avian, rodent, and human tissue and the effects on their respective immune systems in the field of upregulation of Heme-oxygenase. This research experience helped me understand who I wanted to be as a researcher and what the research process entailed. This being my first research experience and it was quite influential in building my foundation as the research scientist I am now and the one I’d like to become in future.

Selected to present a talk at 2022 National Conference on Undergraduate Research |1| To be selected for another national conference talk is truly an amazing opportunity to continue to talk about these important topics and health disparities that impact African American patients.

Selected to present a talk at 2021 American Association for Cancer Research |1| This was my first ever national conference talk that I had ever given. It was important for us to showcase the work we are doing at Lafayette at a national level. It is essential to communicate the importance of participating in this conversation around ancestral patient profiles in relation to precision medicine approaches to fix these health disparities.

2nd Place, Best Research Presentation Award, University of Massachusetts Medical School |1| Given to the top 3 groups with the best repurposed technology proposal for a specific disease.