Recent Middlesex Community College graduates Erwin Ndwiga (Meriden) and Mukshud Ahamed (Westbrook) shared their experiences in the Summer Health Professions Education Program, known as SHPEP, in an inspirational presentation at the college on Jan. 24, 2018.
Usually, college students spend at least part of the summer enjoying the beach or hanging out with friends, but Ndwiga and Ahamed committed themselves to an intense six-week enrichment program focused on improving access to information and resources in health professions.
The program’s goal is to strengthen the academic proficiency and career development of students who are underrepresented in the health sciences field and to prepare them for a successful application and matriculation to health professions schools.
“I can’t put into words how wonderful my experience was with the people who became like family and close friends to me,” said Ndwiga, who mentored with renowned physicians at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center last summer. “I enjoyed learning and networking in a challenging environment with deans and doctors who are leaders in their fields.”
Ndwiga, who graduated from Middlesex Community College last May, is currently enrolled in the Pre-Dental program at the University of Connecticut. Members of his family in Kenya had difficulty with gum disease, influencing Ndwiga to pursue a career in dental medicine.
In Ahamed’s presentation, he stressed the importance of the program’s application process, especially taking advantage of the personal essay to explain why the program would be beneficial to him.
“I began my essay with, ‘The person I am today is a stark contrast to the disheveled adolescent I was before,’” he said. “I nearly failed out of high school and lacked the confidence to attend college.” But while at Middlesex, Ahamed discovered a love for biology and along with the encouragement of professors and advisers outside of class, he gained the knowledge and will to apply to the prestigious summer program.
In 2016, Ahamed spent the summer at the Yale School of Medicine exploring medical options by shadowing physicians in the emergency room and internal medicine as well as collaborating in small-group clinical rotations and full-group clinician seminars. He was one of four Middlesex students accepted into the program that summer, unprecedented for MxCC.
Ahamed is now a biochemistry student at Wesleyan University and a McNair Fellow. As a research assistant under the guidance of Dr. Nicole Clay at Yale and Dr. Erika Taylor at Wesleyan, Ahamed has worked on projects related to plant innate immunity, drug design, and biofuel research.
Ahamed and Ndwiga met each other as non-science majors in a biology class taught by Professor Cheryl Eckert. Their positive experiences in that class and the continuing support from Professor Eckert helped them transition to a science-oriented career path. “They were not who you see now when they applied to the program,” said Eckert.
“I can’t think of two better students to represent Middlesex Community College in a program like this than Mukshud and Erwin,” MxCC chemistry Professor Kimberly Thomas proudly declared at the end of the presentation.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the SHPEP application deadline for Summer 2018 is February 15. Several sites are available across the country. For more information, visit shpep.org.
Written by Thea Moritz
Update 2023: Mukshud is pursuing a Ph.D. at Stony Brook University on Long Island. Erwin received a B.S. from UConn in 2019.