Sasha McKay — the URECA researcher of the month for February 2022 — graduated summa cum laude in December 2021 with a double major in biochemistry and sociology. Since June 2020, she has been investigating racial and geographical disparities in cancer rates under the mentorship of Jaymie Meliker, Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine.
McKay gave a presentation on “Racial and Geographical Disparities in Colorectal Cancer Incidence in Mississippi, 2003-2018” at the virtual 2021 Summer Symposium sponsored by URECA and the Center for Inclusive Education, at the national Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students conference, and has a co-authored publication on this topic under review. She has also been working with Professor Meliker on several other public health projects, including spatial patterns of racial disparities in proximity to landfills and to mammography clinics.
McKay started working with Meliker in June 2020 as a participant in Increasing Diversity in Undergraduate Cancer Biology Education and Research, a program directed by Jennie Williams, also from the Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine. She was first introduced to research at Stony Brook at the invitation of one of her course instructors, Maria Nagan, from the Department of Chemistry. In the Nagan group (Fall 2019-Spring 2020), McKay worked on a project that simulates RNA of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in different conformations to determine the role of water in protein binding to the RNA.
When asked what advice she would give to other students about research, she said, “There are so many different things you can do, so many different professors you can contact about doing research, and different types of research. So try to find something that you actually find to be interesting, something that will keep you motivated.”
In her freshman year, McKay participated in a diversity in medicine conference, “Health Justice at Upstate: Breaking Down Barriers,” and in the Pre-medical Access to the Clinical Experience program offered at the Renaissance School of Medicine.
On campus, she has served as a teaching assistant for chemistry and for the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (Summer 2019), and was involved since sophomore year with the Minority Association of Pre-Health Students as public relations officer, secretary and vice president; and with the campus chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as program coordinator, secretary and president. She has also worked as a COVID-19 vaccine POD assistant for Stony Brook, as a contract tracer for the New York State Department of Health and as a scribe for Westchester County Center and CityMD. McKay’s long-term goal is to pursue medical training with a focus on public health.