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Kristina Navrazhina

College: Macaulay Honors College | Hunter College
Awards: ,

Doing Battle With Cancer

Volunteering and working with cancer patients has propelled Kristina Navrazhina (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, 2014) toward pursuing graduate and clinical work in genetics and molecular biology, so she can conduct research and teach at the university level.

“Despite a great deal of research, we don’t have a cure for cancer,” she says. “I want to be one of the people that finds novel treatments and maybe even a cure, because it’s a universal disease. There’s a lot of potential in identifying the genes that regulate cancer expression.”

Navrazhina has been awarded a federally funded 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. She received one of only 272 scholarships given to college juniors and seniors around the country to encourage research careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields; faculty members nominated 1,107 applicants for this highly competitive scholarship.

It covers up to $7,500 a year in undergraduate tuition, fees, books and room and board, with seniors getting one year of support and juniors two years.

Navrazhina was born in Russia and moved to the South Bronx when she was in the fifth grade. “I was the only immigrant in the school, and I couldn’t speak a word of English,” she says. “I had to work hard on my accent, because I wanted it to be the English that Americans speak.” (She succeeded admirably.)

She got an early start in medicine and research when, just out of high school, she landed a rare spot in a summer college-level program at Yale School of Medicine.

“Being the youngest in a group of college students who knew so much more was motivating, and it was really special being around people who also liked science and medicine,” she says.

At Hunter, she has explored various areas of biology. She took endocrinology to learn about an intricate body system. In an independent study, she collected data on how health issues affected a Brooklyn neighborhood. Through Macaulay, she took a seminar that took an anthropological approach to looking at how people of different communities intertwine. “You can’t just look at biology or chemistry,” she says. “Everything is linked together.”

She also has had two fully funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates. During one summer, she worked at Mount Sinai Hospital studying neurology diseases. During another summer, she worked at a systems biology laboratory at Rockefeller University. In addition, she is a workshop leader for an organic chemistry class and is an avid dancer.

Navrazhina credits her advisers at Macaulay and in Hunter’s Biology Department with encouraging her to apply for the Goldwater and for helping her through the process, such as the proper way to write a personal statement and present her research (hers was looking at breast cancer from a genetic standpoint).

Among those who helped were associate professor Roger Persell; then-dean of arts and sciences Robert Greenberg; Macaulay advisor Adrienne FitzGerald; pre-health director Karen Phillips; and CUNY director of student academic awards and honors James Airozo.

“How many schools do that, private or public?” she asks.