Commencement 2018: VP&S Student Stories

Columbia medical student Fatimah Alkhunaizi
Fatimah Alkhunaizi

As a medical student at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S), Fatimah Alkhunaizi, MD'18, served on the board of the Columbia Human Rights Initiative’s Asylum Clinic, a student-run clinic that conducts pro bono medical and psychological evaluations for people seeking asylum in the United States.

“That was a very profound experience that gave me glimpses into the incredible challenges that asylum seekers face, both at home and here in the United States,” says Alkhunaizi.

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Michael Hernandez, MD'18, first came to VP&S as a college student in the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, a free program offered at VP&S and other U.S. medical schools that prepares students from groups under-represented in the health professions for medical and dental school.

The experience made VP&S his first choice. “The medical students who volunteered their time to mentor us that summer were such kind and down-to-earth individuals,” he recalls.

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When Emily Weidenbaum, MD’18, graduates in May, she will be the second member of her family to graduate from Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S). Her father, Mark Weidenbaum, MD, graduated in 1981 and is now a professor of orthopedics at VP&S.

Yet it wasn’t her father’s career that started Emily on her path to medical school. Her passion for medicine grew from her love of the arts.

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Sebastien Weyn, PhD'18, is fascinated by the complexity of biology. "Organisms, as a whole, work quite well and have high fault tolerance, but nothing in biology is very clean," says the recent graduate from the Department of Systems Biology at VP&S.

Weyn's dissertation—for which he will receive the Titus M. Coan Prize for Excellence in Research at graduation—tackled some of that complexity.  "The regulation of RNA splicing is surprisingly mysterious despite the fact that it is critical for proper cellular function, and there are several genetic diseases that result from improper splicing,” says Weyn, who is now a bioinformatics scientist at Stoke Therapeutics. “Understanding splicing can lead to breakthrough therapies.”

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