My interest in science started early in life. In fact, it was more of a general curiosity exhibited by most young children. Thankfully, my parents encouraged my need to know how things worked and why they worked. Growing up I enjoyed watching Mr. Wizard (revealing my age now...), a television show about a scientist performing various experiments for school-aged children. As I transitioned to junior high school, I discovered a deeper love for science while dissecting frogs. Then in high school I enrolled in an honors biology course where I learned more about biological processes with more dissections.
While traveling down my academic road, I met a few detours, many of them near graduation. I took the scenic route for about 15 years, as I worked diligently in the automotive industry. It was over the course of those years that I rediscovered my interest in science and found that my contribution for society lay in the field of medicine.
After trading a surfboard for a TI-84 calculator, I packed up my belongings and boarded a plane for California. A month prior I had shipped my truck to Los Angeles. Upon landing in LA, I loaded up my truck and drove across America. My mom still lived in North Carolina, and she asked me to move back in with her. She has been my number one supporter!
I started my college experience at Fayetteville Technical Community College. It was a nice place for a non-traditional student to ease back into the rigors of education. I spent one year there adjusting to the atmosphere: learning how much the Internet has transformed schooling. It was a welcome break from working 70 hours per week, but being a full-time student required some lifestyle changes. Thankfully my zoology professor, Mr. Martin, shared a flyer with me about COMPASS at UNC Pembroke. Joining this research-based program would grant me privileges to a vast network of scientific communities. Almost equally important, it would fund the remainder of my undergraduate years!
Transitioning from FTCC to UNCP was exciting, but it brought a set of new challenges. With the guidance and support from Dr. Santisteban, the Principle Investigator for COMPASS (and a passionate biology professor), I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience here. Dr. Poage, my COMPASS mentor as well as a biology professor, has provided me with sage advice over my semesters in Pembroke.
Why did you choose to attend UNCP?
It has small class sizes and is close to home. Plus, my sister Ginger loved her experience at UNCP!
What do you like best about UNCP?
The professors express sincere interest in helping students succeed.
Please comment on your research experiences.
I spent 10 weeks at The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine (WFIRM) this past summer. This experience was priceless as I was able to work with MDs and PhDs from abroad and from America. They were polite and professional as they helped me apply the concepts I learned at UNCP. This hands-on pedagogy reinforced my education from the labs and classrooms. With all of the challenges opposing organ transplants, stem cell therapy and bioprinting organs appear to be the best alternative strategies available. I feel that I made a meaningful contribution to the lab at WFIRM and trust that the research I performed will promote the advancement of these novel ideas to improve the quality of life for people around the globe.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I will attend a physician assistant (PA) program after graduating from UNCP. I began studying paramedicine in January 2014, and I have been working as a paramedic with Hoke County EMS. The more patients I treat in the prehospital environment underscores the need for educating our neighbors on the importance of their health. My dream job would allow me the flexibility to see patients in a primary care setting while continuing my research on stem cell therapies and bionics. I view the role of a PA as a utility player in the arena of healthcare. I will be called upon to perform a variety of services from psychology to surgery. I want to prepare myself and my team to provide preeminent care to patients in our community, our country, and beyond.
From left to right: Nima Pourhabibi Zarandi, MD, David Pedersen, Dr. Maria Santisteban (Director of the UNCP COMPASS Program), and Hooman Sadri-Ardekani, MD, PhD, at the 2016 research presentation for Summer Scholars at Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine