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Alumni Spotlight: Nina Tang '16 Named a Fulbright Scholar

Germantown Academy alumna Nina Tang '16, who graduated from Barnard College this past spring, was selected for the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program to conduct microbiology research in the lab of Dr. Jan-Willem Veening at the University of Lausanne in Lausanne, Switzerland. She will be specifically studying a particular type of antibiotic resistance called heteroresistance that poses a global threat to human’s abilities to successfully treat bacterial infections, particularly in hospital settings.

The Fulbright Student Program is the United States government’s flagship international exchange program offering opportunities for students and young professionals to undertake international graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and primary and secondary school teaching worldwide. The program currently awards approximately 2,000 grants annually in all fields of study and operates in more than 140 countries worldwide.

Tang is extremely excited about the opportunity to work and study abroad for the first time in her career.

“During my time at Barnard and Columbia, I have had some truly incredible experiences,” said Tang, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in cellular/molecular biology while minoring in psychology and following a pre-medical track. “I have had the opportunity to row at the varsity level in a Division I conference for four years, and I have had the opportunity to study cellular and molecular biology and psychology both in the classroom and in the lab under the mentorship of world-class researchers. However, the one type of experience that I was not able to have was the opportunity to really immerse myself into a different culture. I had never had the opportunity to study abroad because of my athletic commitments and my academic track, so I was never able to have the abroad experience that shapes many people's college careers. To me, this Fulbright fellowship allows me the opportunity to challenge myself in different ways while also advancing my scientific career by studying antibiotic resistance under the mentorship of one of the world’s leading microbiology researchers."

Tang noted that the application process was arduous and labor-intensive.

“The initial application was due to my school for our internal evaluation process on September 4, so I spent the majority of the summer working on contacting researchers in Switzerland and putting together my application materials and essays,” said Tang. “Unexpectedly, I had a secondary application that I had to submit over winter break after I found out that I had progressed into the semi-finalist phase. This part of the application was the most difficult for me because it required a full seven page grant proposal, essentially asking me to write a research paper for which I did not yet have results. Those three weeks completing the secondary application were probably my most stressful few weeks in recent memory, but luckily, it paid off.

The program was scheduled to begin in September 2020, but due to the current pandemic, all Fulbright research fellowships have been pushed back to January 2021.

“In the meantime, I will begin a research position at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda,” said Tang. “There, I will be working on studying parasitic infections, particularly neurocysticercosis which is the leading cause of adult onset seizures, globally.”

For Tang, who noted in a Columbia University profile that she would like to work for World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control one day, said has always had a keen interest in the study for infectious diseases.

I just find it fascinating how these organisms - bacteria, viruses, and parasites - can take down creatures like humans that are just so much larger and more complex in many ways,” said Tang. “Somehow, these microbes are still able to oftentimes completely paralyze and overwhelm our immune defenses and can wreak havoc on the world that we live in. This pandemic has served as further justification for why studying microbiology is so important and has demonstrated how essential it is that we understand these organisms that constantly exist in and around us.”

Tang, who was named to the Dean’s List for multiple semesters, received a number of grants during her time at Barnard and Columbia from Columbia’s Summer Research Institute. She also conducted research at the Division of Infectious Diseases of Columbia University Medical Center where she studied antimicrobial resistance in the Uhlemann Lab. Away from the lab, she rowed for Columbia's varsity team, served as co-president of the Columbia’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, and planned events as social chair for the Sigma Delta Tau sorority.

Tang started at GA in sixth grade and during her time on campus she really appreciated the many wonderful teachers and coaches she had in Middle School and Upper School

“When I think about GA, I think about a sense of balance,” said Tang. “During my time at GA, I was always particularly interested in science and biology, but this never took away from my interests in the humanities. Some of the teachers with whom I was closest were in the English, History and French departments in the Upper School. I particularly think about the relationships that I had with Mr. Moyer, Mr. Mattern, Mrs. Krouse, Madame Test, Mrs. Graffam, and Dr. Friedman. Of course, I also could never forget Mr. Scherrer who made me love physics freshman year, and Mrs. Cassidy, Ms. Dann and Mrs. Pizzino who helped me to continue falling in love with biology. There are countless other teachers who have helped mold me into the person I am now, and I sincerely apologize that I cannot name them all! In addition to my academic teachers, I learned an incredible sense of discipline and determination from my experiences in athletics. For this, I thank my rowing coaches and swimming coaches, particularly Dick Shoulberg with whom I am still extremely close. And lastly but absolutely not least, I could not have imagined being here without Mr. McVeigh. He taught me so much about self-value and compassion. He encouraged me and inspired me to always explore the world and the people around me, and I know that I would not be the person I am today had it not been for Peter McVeigh.”

She also appreciated the energy her science teachers brought to class!

“What I can say is that the constant enthusiasm that I saw from my science teachers throughout Middle School and Upper School at GA and their emphases on continued learning really made me appreciate how vast the field of biology was and how much there still is to learn about all of the systems and interactions that exist and occur in our bodies and around us every single day,” said Tang.

Congratulations, Nina!