College News, Student and Alumni News

Scholarship Supports Students as They Pursue Innovations in Science

Macaulay is pleased to congratulate four graduates of the Class of 2022 who have received CUNY’s prestigious Jonas E. Salk Award. Amanda Brand, Kevin Kemelmakher, Pamella Leybengrub, and Tammy Yang are among a group of eight outstanding scholarship recipients accepted into medical schools or graduate programs in the biomedical sciences. The group was recognized at a reception attended by Macaulay Dean Dara Byrne, Chief Academic Officer Roblin Meeks, and Hunter College Director Lev Sviridov. Said Meeks, “I’m so proud of these outstanding students. Bright researchers like this, carrying on in the legacy of Jonas Salk, will mean better care and healthier lives for us all.”

On each of the eight CUNY campuses, Macaulay advisors support the unique needs of high achieving students, helping them to  take advantage of research opportunities, awards, and professional opportunities open to them. Award winner Amanda Brand noted the role of her advisor, Dr. Carolyn Pytte, in encouraging her to take the next step in her research—without applying pressure.

“I really appreciated this hands on/hands off approach,” said Amanda. “It allowed me to learn and grow independently while also knowing support was there if I needed it. I felt Macaulay provided us with more than ample resources while allowing us to cultivate and use them in our own ways. I’m excited to see what’s next!”


Amanda Brand (Queens College)
Will Attend: Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University
Research Paper: “The Effect of Human CD34+ Cells on Age-Related Neurogenesis and Cognition in a Mice Model of Healthy Aging”

Amanda Brand credits a younger member of her family with informally teaching her the scientific method. In order to empathetically engage with him, Brand had to observe how he behaved in daily interactions and to learn that his body language was most representative of his feelings. Starting in the neuroscience laboratory of Dr. Carolyn Pytte in Fall 2019, Brand was a consistent presence until her May 2022 graduation. Brand co-founded Queens College’s Medical Ethics Society club, served as secretary of Macaulay’s Art of Science club and earned a summer internship grant. She graduated summa cum laude as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Kevin Kemelmakher (Hunter College)
Will Attend: College of Osteopathic Medicine at New York Institute of Technology
Research Paper: “Development of a TET-on System to Study the Regulation of MRGPRX4 by RAMP2”

Kevin Kemelmakher first learned about wanting to serve others through medicine through his pediatrician, who would candidly discuss medicine decisions with Kemelmakher. Through this experience, he learned that knowledge about medicine could be empowering. As a volunteer for NYU Langone’s Heart Valve Center, he worked with researchers to survey patients in need of open-heart surgery. Seeing the clinical research team emphasize the patients’ humanity showed Kemelmakher the successes of an empathetic approach to treatment. He worked in two labs while at Hunter and was club secretary of the Former Soviet Union Club, a community within Hunter College Hillel. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in June 2022.

Pamella Leybengrub (Hunter College)
Will Attend: Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University
Research Paper: “Cross-Talk Studies on Oncogenic Proteins MDMX, MDM2, Mutant p53, and the DNA Repair Protein PARP”

As a volunteer at her father’s Brooklyn-based pharmacy, Pamella Leybengrub developed an early interest in providing medicine to underserved communities. Inspired by the kindness of her father, who she saw pay for customers’ medication if they could not afford it, Leybengrub hopes now to follow in his footsteps and lessen health inequities. She continued her trend towards this goal, helping out a local pediatrician at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and then working in the biological sciences lab of Hunter College professor Dr. Jill Bargonetti. She graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology in December 2022.

Tammy Yang (Hunter College)
Will Attend: Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at University at Buffalo
Research Paper: “Regulation of Srs2’s Anti-Checkpoint Function through PCNA Interaction and Sumoylation”

Tammy Yang was motivated to enter the field of medicine in the hopes of providing the level of care she received from her primary care provider as a child, whom she recalls as considerate of the language barrier with her mother — who speaks Mandarin — and who treated Yang and her mother as partners in Yang’s health. As a scribe for a nursing and rehabilitation facility, she fondly remembers assisting a patient whom she could communicate with in Mandarin, seeing the patient’s eyes light up as she was more directly able to communicate her health concerns. Bringing this motivation to her time at Macaulay and Hunter, Yang was part of the Pre-Health Mentoring Initiative at the college before graduating in January 2022 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

The scholarship is named in honor of Jonas E. Salk ’34, the City College alumnus renowned for developing the first polio vaccine in 1955. Salk turned down a ticker tape parade in honor of his discovery and asked that the money instead be used for these scholarships. Every year since his discovery, eight students have been selected on the basis of original research papers, produced under the guidance and mentorship of CUNY professors and other prominent scientists. Each awardee will receive $8,000 over four years to defray the tuition costs of their graduate studies or medical training.



Photos courtesy of  CUNY.