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Guyanese-American Pre-Med Student Scores A Slam Dunk In Research

CaribWorldNews, FLUSHING, NY, April 19, 2010: A Guyanese-American Queens College student and top athlete finds himself on a different playing field these days – a research lab.

Andrew Hillman, born to Guyanese parents in the U.S., had always excelled in sports. As a youngster he would spend much of his time shooting hoops on the basketball court, hitting baseballs out of the park, or running track.

These days the Queens College pre-med student is  working alongside biomechanics expert Professor Ya-Ching Hung, studying the movements of children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a version of the disease that affects only one side of the body. His goal: to become an orthopedic surgeon. 
 
`I developed a strong love for research and the possibilities it offers of bringing something new to the world,` says Hillman, who will graduate this May with a Bachelor of Science degree from the Department of Family, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at Queens College.

Thanks to the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) U-STAR program, funded by the National Institutes of Health, Hillman and other students under-represented in the sciences participate in mentored research opportunities that can lead to careers in the biomedical and behavioral sciences.

In addition to receiving 24 months of undergraduate training in their junior and senior years, these students spend their summers interning at leading American and international research institutions.
 
From June to August of 2008, Hillman had a fellowship to study in the pediatric gastroenterology department at Weill Cornell Medical College. He assisted principal investigator Dr. Aeri Moon in research that examined the relationship between bile-induced gastropathy (stomach disease) and obesity in children. 
 
Last summer, Hillman was sent by the University of Washington to Chulalongkorn University in Thailand, where he participated in cardiovascular research under Dr. Michelle Williams, a well-known epidemiologist. In addition to the rich education he received, Hillman had the `cultural experience of a lifetime…where I was able to reach beyond my comfort zone, meet interesting new people, and learn another language.`

He even got a chance to be the best man – `a huge honor,` he says, at the wedding of the son of the Thai family with whom he was living.

Hillman and 15 QC classmates recently returned from the Student National Medical Association Conference in Chicago, where he was named the Pre-Med Student Winner of the Research Presentation Award, receiving the highest score not only among the undergraduates, but also the MD/PhD candidates. His poster presentation showed how intensive bimanual training can help children with hemiplegic cerebral palsy improve their coordination and motor functions. In addition, the QC chapter of the Minority Association of Pre-Med Students (MAPS), which Hillman co-founded in 2008 with two other QC students, was honored as `National MAPS Chapter of the Year.`

A natural teacher and role model, Hillman tutors students in chemistry for the Beta Delta Chi Chemistry Honor Society and mentors younger students for Project Excel, part of the City University of New York`s Black Male Initiative. He also recruits members for the Black Men`s Focus Group (BMFG), a college support group that helps male students of color deal with life, school, social relationships, and other issues. Recently he began working with the college`s administration to develop new initiatives to attract and retain under-represented minority students.

Hillman feels very strongly about giving back to the country where his parents were born. Every spring for the past two years, he has served as a volunteer physician`s aide for a non-profit organization called Health & Education Relief for Guyana (HERG). Paying his own round-trip airfare, Hillman travels to this underdeveloped South American country, where he monitors blood pressure and blood sugar levels and helps pharmacists dispense medication. 

`The days are long and strenuous,` he says. `We get up at 5 am and take a two-hour trip into the jungle where we`ll see 200 to 250 patients a day, many of whom have never been examined by a doctor and suffer from malaria and other diseases.`  These trips keep Hillman focused and energized to work harder at his studies and never give up on his dream. `Someday, I`d like to take over HERG and set up other programs to teach the Guyanese to help themselves.`

Hillman came to New York as a transfer student from Georgia State University in Atlanta, where his father lives, moving in with his mother in Jamaica.

Because he missed the deadline for transfer applications to NYU, he enrolled at Queens College. `I had planned to stay at QC for only one semester, but when I started taking classes here, I loved it and decided not to leave.` 

Among the reasons Hillman cites for staying at QC are his mentors, including Maureen Pierce-Anyan, Director of Minority Affairs and his pre-professional adviser who `guided me throughout my academic career, always pointing me in the right directions and helping with my applications to various programs.`

Last year, Hillman moved into the college`s new residence hall, The Summit. `By living on campus I can concentrate better on my studies, spend more time at the lab, and interact with other students and organizations without having to commute back and forth,` he observes. 

After graduation, Hillman plans to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). the first step in a year-long process of gaining admission. In the interim, he is weighing several offers to do postgraduate orthopedic and biomechanical research at the National Institutes of  Health in Bethesda, Md., or Emory University in Atlanta.

Queens College of the City University of New York (CUNY), founded in 1937, is dedicated to the idea that a first-rate education should be accessible to talented individuals of all backgrounds and financial means.