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Yehoshua Laker

College: Queens College
Awards: Goldwater Scholarship, 2008

High Hopes of Making a Difference

Yehoshua Nechemia Laker, 21, a biology/English major and a math and natural sciences honor student at Queens College, has won a prestigious 2008 Goldwater Scholarship for his senior year.

His classmate, chemistry major Ross Radusky, also 21, has received an honorable mention from the Goldwater Foundation, which runs the scholarship program. Named for late Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the national initiative recognizes outstanding students in math, science and engineering; sophomores and juniors are eligible for one- or two-year awards that provide as much as $7,500 annually toward tuition, fees, books and room and board.

The two Queens College honorees were chosen from a highly competitive pool of 1,035 undergraduates nominated by college and university faculties across the country.

"We are so proud of Yehoshua and Ross, who exemplify the very best of our students," says Queens College President James Muyskens. "Their achievements testify to their own hard work and the rich research environment and mentorship opportunities available on campus. Along with our award-winning faculty, they enhance our national reputation for excellence in the liberal arts and sciences."

In the mornings, Laker studies Talmud at the Yeshiva B'nei Torah near his home in Far Rockaway. He spends his afternoons tackling a heavy pre-med course load at Queens College, where he also conducts cancer research, copyedits and writes a technology column for the school newspaper and runs on the college's track team. Last summer, he volunteered in Nyack Hospital's emergency room. When asked what drives him, this mild-mannered upperclassman answers matter-of-factly that he seeks "to gain wisdom and grow my mind, body and soul."

While he's still weighing his professional aspirations - he hopes he can explore "an amalgam of fields" - Laker is strongly considering the pursuit of an MD/PhD degree that would allow him to combine medicine with research in cellular biology or biochemistry.

"I derive great pleasure from applying science to my life and would like to discover new ideas and innovations in healing that would make this a better, healthier world," he says.

One of five children, Laker says he would not be where is today without the support and encouragement of family, teachers and friends. Laker's father has been a computer programmer at IBM for more than 25 years, and his mother formerly worked in speech pathology and audiology. So it was only natural, he explains, that "a dedication to the sciences would be an integral part" of his culture and mindset. "My parents instilled in me a love for learning and a drive for pursuing knowledge."

Laker credits "the amazing, dedicated professors at Queens College" for advancing his passion for science. For the last three semesters, he has worked in the cell biology research lab of Queens College biology Professor Karl Fath and the cancer research lab of biochemistry Professor Wilma Saffran. Laker is helping Saffran analyze the DNA repair mechanisms in yeast that are resistant to the damaging effects of carcinogens. Because yeast is genetically similar to human cells, this research could have profound implications for cancer prevention and survival.

Saffran, director of the college's mathematics and natural sciences honors program, mentors Laker and Radusky. "They're excellent students - bright, enthusiastic, determined, self-motivated and well-rounded … I really enjoy having them in my lab," she says.

Radusky, who lives in Neponsit, is majoring in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry. A member of the Macaulay Honors College and a math and natural sciences honors student, Radusky is interested in orthopedic surgery and plans to attend medical school. He has applied to the summer undergraduate program in musculoskeletal research - a field in which he hopes to specialize - at NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases. He supplements his course work by interning at WCBS-TV as a medical news contributor. In addition, he volunteers at North Shore Long Island Jewish Hospital.

This is the third consecutive year in which Queens College students have received Goldwater Scholarships. Last year, Kew Gardens resident Miriam Ginzberg, an honors chemistry major interested in pharmaceutical materials science, won the award. She is now weighing offers for graduate study from Harvard, MIT and Rockefeller University. In 2006, Rachel Schnur, a biology major from Hillcrest who wanted to pursue cancer research and university teaching, was the college's Goldwater Scholar. She is in the PhD biomedical sciences program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.