UB Undergraduate Looking to Fight Cancer Wins Elite Goldwater Award

Release Date: April 7, 2010

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Sophomore Jasmine May is the recipient of a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater scholarship.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jasmine May, a University at Buffalo sophomore whose fierce ambition to find better treatments for brain cancer patients is inspired by the recent death of her father, has won the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education award.

The elite honor was given to 278 undergraduate students in the country pursing degrees in mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. May, 19, of Sanborn, was chosen from more than 1,100 top mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by colleges and universities nationwide.

"This will push me to try to go for bigger scholarships," May says. "I like seeing my name among the other student winners from Harvard and Yale. It tells me I can compete with them and still win."

May joins the ranks of other Goldwater recipients, many of whom have attracted the interest and attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 73 Rhodes Scholarships, 105 Marshall Awards, 90 Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished fellowships. She will received $7,500 a year for the final two years of her undergraduate work at UB to cover tuition, fees, books and other expenses.

May is the daughter of Verneice Turner and Douglas May, who died from brain cancer during Jasmine's first semester at UB. She hopes the Goldwater scholarship helps her achieve her goal to become a professor at a top research university affiliated with a cancer research institute, an ambition that fits well with UB because of the university's association with Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

May was honored April 1 at UB's Scholars of Excellence luncheon with other outstanding student scholars. Throughout the luncheon and subsequent campus and family celebrations, the memory of her father was never far from her mind.

"He was valedictorian of his graduating class at Clarkson University, and I'm running an invisible competition with him," she says. "I have his report card from college. So I can see all his grades."

Douglas May, a mechanical engineer at Praxair, died from brain cancer when he was in his mid-50s, the same time his daughter entered her first semester of undergraduate work at UB. A graduate of Starpoint Central School in Lockport, Jasmine is an only child.

"He probably would have had a big smile on his face throughout the ceremony last week if he would have been there," May says. "He was very quiet man. Quiet, but he was funny. He was very proud of his family, not of himself but what he was able to provide for them. He grew up on a farm. And he was proud that he could provide a home, a good learning environment and a comfortable living situation for my mother and me. He was just happy to see us happy."

Even amid the recent celebration, May says she can't help but recall her days as a child.

"I've been focusing on work and not constantly thinking about him because of the memories. That's hard, so I try to keep him on my mind and use him for inspiration."

May's research centers around experimental drug therapies to treat brain cancer. As an undergraduate researcher at UB's Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB), her main goal, she says, is to develop new non-invasive bio-imaging and drug-delivery tools that will allow better prevention, earlier diagnosis and more effective treatment of cancer. This involves investigating the properties of different nanostructures -- such as light emitting silicon nanocrystals -- and tailoring them to particular cancer applications.

She's working with UB Distinguished Professor Paras Prasad, executive director of ILPB, one of the nation's most renowned scientists in the use of nanotechnology to devise treatments for cancer.

In addition to Prassad, May cited Folarin Erogbogbo, a postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics, as having an important influence on her research. And she describes UB's Kenneth Takeuchi, PhD, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor in chemistry, as her chief mentor at UB.

"I did an internship in Professor Takeuchi's lab during the fall and worked alongside his graduate students," she says. "They were able to teach me techniques that were important for my research development and for just understanding basic skills that research scientists should know."

For Takeuchi, May seems like a special mix of talent and soul.

"It has been my pleasure to teach and mentor a number of very intelligent, bright, articulate and talented students during my 27-year career at UB," says Takeuchi. "And Jasmine May stands out as a special student.

"Jasmine is multi-talented, being gifted with intelligence, physical grace and skill, as well as singing ability," he says. "Possessing so many diverse gifts, Jasmine has elected to devote a great deal of her time toward her academic and research endeavors, with her primary motivation being the altruistic goal of helping solve currently intractable problems in science, which may ultimately result in improving the health and quality of life for others.

"Jasmine is special because she makes special choices."

May performs 15 hours of research a week, along with her regular coursework. Her interests include "hanging out" with her friends, playing badminton on Fridays and spending time with her boyfriend, fellow UB student Jeffrey Meyers, who she says has been "very supportive."

And she is still very close to her mother, a poet prominent in local literary circles.

"My mother has always inspired confidence in myself because she always has been a very strong woman," May says. "She's always tried to reaffirm a sense of self-love. Of course, you do things for people. But you make sure you don't hurt yourself in the process.

"You can't perform the best for others if you can't perform the best for yourself."

May is among four UB students selected to participate in "SUNY Undergraduates Shaping New York's Future: A Showcase of Scholarly Posters at the Capitol," scheduled April 13 in the Legislative Office Building in Albany.

The Goldwater Scholarship is the latest academic honor she has received. A CSTEP (Collegiate Science & Technology Entry Program) scholar, May previously conducted research in UB's Pharmacology and Toxicology Department. She has received the Dale Carnegie Leadership Award, the Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony Award in Humanities and Social Sciences, the Houston Scholarship and the Provost Scholarship.

The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship program honoring Sen. Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The trustees that award the Goldwater scholarship include notable people such as Sen. John McCain. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier undergraduate award of its type in these fields.

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