Mariam El-Esnawy has been involved in research since her sophomore year.
Mariam El-Esnawy has been involved in research since her sophomore year.

CMU award recognizes Qatar campus bio sci student

Class of 2021 graduate Mariam El-Esnawy was named the 2021 recipient of the Elizabeth W Jones Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. The award is given annually by the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon’s main campus to recognize a biological sciences senior who has demonstrated an exceptional commitment to research.

This is the second year in a row that a student from the Qatar campus has won the award: Dona Ferdinando received the award for 2020.

El-Esnawy has been involved with research since her sophomore year. “I love the lab experience, how you take a question and expand and expand. You keep coming up with new questions, and it moves you forward.”

El-Esnawy’s interest lies in the role that RNA-binding proteins may play in the regulation of breast cancer tumors. She began working in the lab of Ihab Younis, associate teaching professor of biological sciences, in her sophomore year.

Younis described the tremendous impact that El-Esnawy has had in his lab: “When we first started, I assigned her a set of proteins that I suspected would not be very fruitful. She put so much work into the project, and to our surprise, she found very interesting data. Because of her work, this area of inquiry is now a major project in my lab.”

“It’s a big deal for a student to take a so-so idea and develop it into a major idea,” he said.

El-Esnawy completed a senior honors thesis and reported her findings at the 2021 CMU-Q College Honors presentations, which were held virtually. Her work showed that two specific proteins have different expression levels and effects in breast cancer subtypes, which could eventually lead to different therapeutic approaches for patients.

“Mariam is so deserving of this award,” said Younis, who served as the faculty advisor for her honors thesis. “She thinks critically, understands the research question we are asking, and gets both the big picture and the details. I can go on and on.”

The award was created to honor long-time CMU faculty member Elizabeth W Jones, who had a passion for teaching and guiding undergraduate students. Jones believed that the best way to stimulate and excite students about science is to involve them in hands-on, original research. The award honors her commitment to undergraduate research.

El-Esnawy plans to pursue a career in research. In the short term, she will work in research and eventually continue with graduate studies.

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