Written by: 
Naomi Niyah ('18)
Photography by: 
Ahna Hubnik

There are three things I'm going to miss most about UNT after I graduate: home games, the sense of community and the research.

As a student, I've attended nearly every Mean Green football and basketball home game. That was partly because I worked at the athletics ticket office where I could literally see the scoreboard from my booth at the Super Pit. But even without that job, I would have gone to the games.

As a member of the Comanche and Navajo Nation on my dad's side, and Northern Cheyenne and Lakota on my mom's, I was glad to see multicultural organizations on campus. I helped restart the UNT Native American Student Association (NASA), and as this year's vice president, worked to increase our visibility on campus and raise awareness to foster open and honest conversation between the Native and non-Native communities.

I'm proud of the commitment the university shows in helping students in need. For my Class of 2018 community service project, we focused on helping children through End Hunger Now.

And when I saw President Smatresk and other students showing support for those impacted by Hurricane Harvey last year, I was reminded how much UNT really cares.

Science, especially research, is my true passion. I came to UNT on an academic scholarship and have been a biology Honors student ever since. As a freshman, I participated in the Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (PHAGES) research program. We would collect, isolate and characterize our own bacteriophage -- viruses that can infect bacteria and could be used in phage therapy. Dr. Lee Hughes, director of the program, was an invaluable mentor to me, offering encouragement and support.

I have two general research focuses: the host-pathogen relationship and the impact of the environment on human health. But I also have interests outside of laboratory work, including epidemiology and public policy. UNT has shown me the importance of taking a multidisciplinary approach to the multifaceted questions in biology and health. In Dr. Armin Mikler's computational epidemiology class, I learned to look at infectious diseases and health problems in new ways.

In my sophomore and junior years, I conducted biological research through the National Institutes of Health STEP-UP program and presented papers at the national symposium in Bethesda, Maryland, twice. I was the only student from UNT chosen and one of only about three from Texas. My first summer, I worked with the ovarian cancer cell line SKOV3. My project focused on the impact obesity may have on the micro-environment of cancer cells. During the second summer, I looked at the impact of nutrient supplementation on cholera. But it wasn't until the last weeks that I found success. This showed me that any amount of success in research is a victory.

Even though I graduated in May with honors, school has not always come easy to me. As a child, I was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. But I have always been competitive, so I approached it as a challenge, not a setback.

I've had a fulfilling four years at UNT and want to continue growing as a researcher. As I move on to graduate school, I'm looking forward to gaining a better understanding of the impact of the environment on diseases and human populations. And, I'll always follow Mean Green athletics.

Editor's note: Niyah, an Honors College student from Pflugerville, graduated magna cum laude in May with a major in biology and minor in chemistry. She was a national Udall scholarship finalist and has received a fellowship to study in a Penn State doctoral program, where she plans to begin integrated studies in environmental health and cancer or cell biology this fall.

Tesa Hargis
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