PHOENIX, Ariz. — June 9, 2010 — Joshua Niska, a 5-year intern at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), capped a string of major academic honors today by being named one of the nation's top 20 college students by USA TODAY.
Niska and other members of the national newspaper's 2010 All-USA College Academic (First) Team will each receive a $2,500 cash award. They were selected, according to the newspaper, based on their leadership, activities and, most importantly, how the students extended their intellectual talents beyond the classroom.
Meanwhile, another recent 4-year TGen intern, Eric Anderson — who last year was named to USA TODAY's list (Second Team) of the nation's top 40 college students — has received a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue genomic cancer research at the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam, and later will attend the Stanford University School of Medicine.
Both Niska and Anderson recently graduated with honors and at least 4.0 grade-point averages from Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University. Niska majored in Biochemistry. Anderson majored in Bioengineering, Biochemistry and Biological Sciences. Both interned at TGen under the direction of Dr. Heather Cunliffe, Head of TGen's Breast and Ovarian Cancer Research Unit.
"Both Josh and Eric are extraordinarily talented young scientists, and both have extremely promising and exciting futures ahead of them. I'm positive that both will make significant contributions to the betterment of medicine and human health,'' Dr. Cunliffe said.
Niska, 22, of Gilbert, Ariz., will attend Harvard Medical School this fall.
Niska's compelling application thesis to USA TODAY involved his desire to bridge cultural gaps in medicine.
He took a Spanish immersion course at Inhispania International Language Center in Madrid, Spain, following an independent research summer project at the Andes and Amazon Field School in Tena, Ecuador, where he shadowed an indigenous shaman and an allopathic physician, interviewed government health officials and Peace Corps workers, and volunteered in local community projects. His subsequent honors thesis with Dr. Jane Maienschein, a Regents' Professor at ASU's School of Life Sciences, focused on improving cross-cultural medicine, using his experiences to inform research on how to bridge other cultural divides in medicine.
"My experiences in Ecuador with the indigenous community and their physicians, shamans, and other healthcare providers, made me realize the importance of cultural understanding and the need to evaluate all forms of medicine in order to improve healthcare for patients of all backgrounds," Niska said. "I hope to continue to investigate diversity in medicine throughout my career as a physician, with the perspective that all patient encounters are cross-cultural."
Niska was an ASU School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research (SOLUR) Fellow. And he participated in both the Helios Scholars Program at TGen and TGen's Undergraduate Research Fellowship in the Brain Tumor Unit and in the Breast and Ovarian Cancer Research Unit.
Niska's name already has appeared on no fewer than five peer-reviewed scientific papers and manuscripts, involving discoveries in breast and brain cancer, and in overcoming language and cultural barriers in medicine and health care.
Among his academic achievements, Niska won:
- A 2009-10 Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship of up to $7,500, considered the nation's highest undergraduate award for research in science, math and engineering.
- A College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean's Undergraduate Research Scholarship of $2,500 in the natural sciences for the fall 2009 semester.
- The 2008-09 American Association for Cancer Research Thomas J. Bardos Science Education Award for Undergraduate Students.
- An American Association for the Advancement of Science Travel Grant, for the spring 2008 and spring 2010 semesters — granted through the Distinguished Teaching Academy at ASU's Barrett Honors College and the university's Center for Biology and Society — for scientific poster presentations at international AAAS annual meetings.
- The Moeur Award from the ASU Alumni Association.
And just for good measure, Niska was a 2009 Rhodes scholarship finalist, and was named the Spring 2010 Outstanding Graduate from Barrett, the Honors College at ASU.
In addition to his academic awards, Niska was: an Executive Board Member and Chair of Community Service for the ASU American Medical Student Association; a writing tutor at ASU's Writing Center; a mentor at ASU's Barrett Honors College; captained intramural basketball and soccer teams; and served as a volunteer with ASU's Mathematics Education Service Learning Program, in which he tutored fifth grade mathematics students at Phoenix's Herrera Elementary School.
He also volunteered in the Surgical Department at Maricopa County Hospital and in the Emergency Department at Scottsdale Healthcare-Osborn.