By Zainab Iqbal
Published: December 7th, 2016
This November, Brooklyn College junior Chukwunonso Nwasike, a pre-medical student and a double major in biology and philosophy, received the Virginia B. Toulmin Scholarship of $5,000.
According to its website, “The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life and improving conditions for children and their families in selected communities across the United States.”
“Being pre-med is this weird unnecessary struggle that’s induced by medical schools, administration, etc.,” said Nwasike. “It always feels good to do something and have people say ‘you did a good job’. It gives you the recognition and drive to keep going.”
Nwasike is planning on spending the $5,000 on “simple stuff—tuition, MCAT prep, the MCAT itself, and taking a winter class.”
Though he has also been the recipient of two other scholarships—Seymour Richman Memorial Scholarship and the David and Jessica Hammer ’38 Memorial Scholarship—this one feels different.
“The other ones are based on the biology department,” said Nwasike. “This one was about what I do, more than the numbers I put out, which was a lot cooler.”
Nwasike was eligible for this scholarship through his work with Sunrise Association—an organization that aims to work with cancer children and their siblings to give them a happier lifestyle.
The Sunrise Association is popular for its Day Camps, where children with cancer (along with their siblings) continue getting treated, all while having fun—free of charge. There are currently seven camps, located in Long Island, Baltimore, Staten Island, and Israel. Nwasike worked at the Sunrise Day Camp in Baltimore during the summer, and still works with them at the Long Island location about every three weeks. This kind of work is a step towards what he wants to do in the future.
Nwasike yearns to be a pediatric oncologist, since he’s always liked working with kids.
“When a child gets sick—not to say that when an adult gets sick it doesn’t matter—it feels different. They haven’t lived, they haven’t experienced,” said Nwasike. “And that sort of thing cascades even if they do get better—the emotional learning that they are not able to partake in, the social learning.”
Furthermore, pediatric cancer is almost always coupled with secondary illnesses, which can be caused either by genetics or by effects of the aggressive therapies, explained Nwasike.
“Throughout their entire life, they will be dealing with the emotional stress as well as physiological damage that could have occurred, as well as the fact that pediatric cancer is almost always linked to adult onset cancer,” further explained Nwasike. “So If you can work with them when it matters the most, you can see them grow. And that’s what really attracts me about pediatrics—it’s having that decades-long patient-pediatrician relationship.”
Wanting to understand how life and death work is part of the reason why Nwasike is majoring in philosophy as well as biology.
“Philosophy doesn’t really tell you anything, but it gives you a mode of thinking about problems critically and to attempt to solve some really fundamental questions: How do things work? How does life work? How does death work? Why do people think the way they think?” said Nwasike. “You get the same thing from science, just in a different, more imperative, quantitative fashion. For me, I am studying the same thing, just from two different perspectives.”
Aside from his plans of saving children with cancer, Nwasike also does and wants to continue doing research—or as he calls it, “working from the bench.”
“Research is the kind of job where the people in it are driven by passion,” said Nwasike. “Doing research, you just want to know something. And in that kind of profession that’s the strongest thing.”
Nwasike is also heavily interested in community health, public health and policy. He wants to work with health care laws through politics, when he’s older and more established. And in the future, he wants to continue working with the Sunrise Association, along with doing community work such as screenings and outreach.