Two college-bound South Bronx students have been awarded $40,000 scholarships for stellar achievements in science.
Brianna Edwards, a Melrose resident, and Tasnim Moumouni, from Mott Haven, have been named as Rale Scholars. The teens have completed pre-medicine courses and college-level neurology classes during their time at Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts in Manhattan.
Rales Scholarships, funded by the Ruth and Norman Rales Foundation, are awarded to several school systems that are partnered with the foundation, including KIPP public schools, Carnegie Mellon University, and Success Academy.
“Brianna was a leader amongst her cohort of students in making sure they’re on track in the college admissions process,” said Matthew Relyea, the school’s assistant principal who taught both students in the 8th and 10th grades. “They were both, right from the beginning, dedicated to learning, and socially, they helped their peers get groups together after school for clubs.”
The two have a message for young aspiring scientists in the South Bronx: to grab every opportunity you can, and to not let a lack of expectations restrict your goals.
In high school, Edwards completed a two-year pre-medicine program and completed a three week summer intensive medical program at Boston University, where she learned how to take vitals, read MRI scans, and study brains and spinal cords.
She said the encouragement she received from staff and role models was integral to her success, and that such support is hard to come by in the South Bronx. As a child, she felt uncertain about a medical future because she didn’t see representation of other minority women. That changed during her summer course at Boston University.
“My premed teacher in my junior year, she was Muslim, and everybody in our class were all girls and POCs,” Edwards said. “She was like a mom to us, she said, ‘you’re the smartest group of women that I know, don’t let anything ever stop you.’”
Edwards took nine practice exams for the SATs and attended preparation classes every day for months leading up to the real exams. Now, she’s gearing up to attend Tufts University and study cognitive and brain sciences to prepare for medical school.
Moumouni, who will begin a nursing program at New York University this fall, also believes that the neighborhood lacks role models for kids, which shapes how children envision their futures.
“When you’re from the South Bronx, you’re not really expected to go into STEM, or excel in school,” she said. “Just because you’re born in the South Bronx doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to just stay stagnant for the rest of your life, and go to a nine to five job instead of actually exploring what you want to explore.”
She was touched by a parent’s day experience when she was in fourth grade, and met her teacher’s father, an epidemiologist who would visit young children in Africa. The event inspired her to educate her own family in Togo, Africa, where she visits every few years to address misconceptions about diabetes, high blood pressure and hypertension.
“I’ve seen many other communities around me try to ignore it, stay away from hospitals, stay away from the bills, stay away from doctors who would often lie to you and go through these malpractice suits,” Moumouni said. “A lot of the time they have relied on local herbs, local sedatives, local everything.”
Moumouni said she was so impressed by the potency of local herbs that she considered pursuing a career in alternative medicine. With the spread of modern medicine across even the poorest countries in the world, she realized her best bet is to start a practice that honors both.
In high school, Moumouni aced a neurology course at Columbia, spent a summer volunteering with VISIONS Service Adventures on a Black Feet reservation, where she distributed books on local ranches and farms, and has volunteered at the New York Local Pantry. The work introduced her to people with rare maladies and hardships, and gave her new life perspectives.
The work has not only increased her empathy for others, but also helped her transform the social anxiety and shyness she dealt with as a child. She credits her passion for science as her breakthrough.
“I liked when other students would ask for help in science, or even ask me to join in science groups,” she said. “I have gotten better, and now I want to do something with people and actually show that I’m here, I’m visible.”
Edwards and Moumouni were among 18 Success Academy students named as Rales Scholars. Three other South Bronx teens received the honor: Rabiat Ahmed, Amadou Seybou, and Max Crespo-Ruiz. They all attended Success Academy Bronx 1 Middle School, on Morris Avenue, before heading to the Manhattan campus for high school.