3 women earn NCCU’s first PhD’s in nearly 60 years


DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — At North Carolina Central University’s Brite lab, three future doctors helped fill up the lab with dreams and curiosity.

Friday afternoon, those three women graduated as NCCU’s first new Ph.D. class in nearly 60 years. The university once had a doctoral program, but it had ended decades ago.

Rasheena Edmondson, of Wilson; Elena Arthur, of Ghana; and Helen Oladapo, of Nigeria, join scientists who are looking for a cure to cancer and researching affordable, new drugs.

“After five years, to me — I think my colleagues may say different — but for me it’s felt like 10,” Edmondson said. “It’s an amazing feeling and I’m so thankful to be at this point.”

Edmondson cultivates 3D prostate cancer cells and tests their response to anti-cancer drugs.

Her research shows 3D cells can impact prostate cancer’s behavior, growth rate, and response to drugs.

While doing this award-winning work, she realized something was missing.

“You don’t see as many people that look like you,” Edmondson said.

The latest census found only 28 percent of professionals in the science, technology, engineering and math fields are women and only 10 percent are minorities.

These three women of color who work with numbers every day, but those statistics didn’t discourage them.

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“Everything that is worth doing will be an investment of our time and our resources,” said Arthur, who hopes to forge her way in the biopharmaceutical field.

For her Ph.D. research, Arthur uses what was once North Carolina’s cash crop — tobacco. She inserts a gene into the tobacco plant so a protein can later be extracted that could be used for diabetes drugs.

“It makes you learn and understand patience as far as science is concerned,” Arthur said. “It feels rewarding. It’s a privilege, but also a responsibility.”

Fellow researcher and scientist Oladapo agrees.

Her studies add to the very limited research on treatment for inflammatory breast cancer, which often doesn’t show up on mammograms and has a high fatality rate.

“I just want to be satisfied, and I want to have this fulfillment and achievement that I did this,” Oladapo reflected when discussing her passion for her work.

But even she questions her advancements.

“Is this good enough? Can it help anybody? Can anybody gain from the knowledge of what I’ve studied,” she’s asked herself. “There have been a lot of challenges when I’m doing research.”

NCCU hopes these first three bioscience PhD graduates in nearly six decades will help fill voids at Research Traingle Park and add their knowledge to the world, and just maybe forge the way to others to follow in their footsteps.

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