May 9, 2016
Bridge to the Ph.D.
Master’s graduate Verra Ngwa epitomizes budding researcher
Verra Ngwa is set to enter Vanderbilt University's Cancer Biology Ph.D. program in the fall, where she hopes her research will one day lead to a cure for cancer.
A native of Cameroon who now lives in Austell, Ngwa is participating in the Peach State Bridges to the Doctorate program and will receive her Master of Science in Chemical Sciences degree from Kennesaw State University next week. The thesis-based program with tracks in chemistry and biochemistry was a good fit for Ngwa, according to her graduate adviser, Jonathan McMurry.
“Verra excelled in her studies and did some super research,” said McMurry, Kennesaw State’s associate vice president for research and a professor of biochemistry. “She is the epitome of our Bridges to the Doctorate program.”
Ngwa, who also received her bachelor’s degree from Kennesaw State, worked as a graduate research assistant alongside McMurry and a team of faculty and students recently to develop a novel cell-penetrating peptide technology that could result in new medical treatments ranging from improved cosmetic procedures to helping in the fight against cancer.
For Ngwa, there is a personal side to the research because she lost her mother to cancer.
“I grew up in Cameroon, and at a young age I lost my father in an armed robbery,” she said. “After my father had passed away, my mother became ill and had to have surgery to remove cancer cells. Unfortunately the cancer had metastasized before the surgery was completed.”
Ngwa said her mother’s death inspired her to pursue a degree in the chemical sciences.
“I wanted to make a difference and prevent anyone else from losing a family member to cancer,” she said. “The journey to receiving this degree has been a difficult one, but I have persevered.”
The Bridges program, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, aims to increase the diversity of the nation’s biomedical research workforce. It provides a path for students in groups underrepresented in biomedical and behavioral sciences to earn a master’s degree in the College of Science and Mathematics’ innovative research-based graduate programs in integrative biology or chemical sciences and transition to doctoral programs at major research universities.