Story by Dorian Martin
As the first in his family to attend college, Demonta Coleman already is a trailblazer.
Coleman, who is a Texas A&M University biomedical sciences (BIMS) major, has climbed to new heights over the past three years. Most recently, he was selected to receive the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ (CVM) Gathright Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior Award and Texas A&M University’s Gathright Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior of the Year.
Phi Kappa Phi (PKP), a multi-disciplinary honor society, annually recognizes the outstanding junior selected from each Texas A&M college. The recognition is presented in a collaboration between The Association of Former Students, LAUNCH: Academic Excellence, and Texas A&M’s PKP chapter. Selection criteria for this honor includes the student’s academic record, research and/or creative production, community engagement, and accomplishments/awards.
In addition, each of these outstanding juniors is considered for the Texas A&M Gathright Phi Kappa Phi Outstanding Junior for the Year. This award is highly valued when students apply for national academic awards programs such as the Rhodes Scholars or Fulbright Scholars.
“The Gathright Outstanding Junior is selected from all of the juniors of their college, so it is not surprising that choosing between them to select the Texas A&M Outstanding Junior is a difficult task. All of our 2019 Gathright Outstanding Juniors have outstanding academic records, impressive resumes, and all gave strong interviews,” said Dr. Jonathan Kotinek, director of Texas A&M’s LAUNCH: Honors. “Demonta Coleman was selected because of the impressive breadth and quality of his activities, which include research and extensive service, as well as his strong interview responses related to his career plans in medicine and pursuing life-long learning.”
The award highlights how far Coleman has come in such a short period of time.
“Applying for college, in general, was hard because I didn’t know much about college to begin with,” the Lufkin native said. “My interest in Texas A&M was based on seeing many people around my hometown wearing A&M apparel, so I thought it must be a good school.”
Coleman’s desire to become a scientist and his top grades in school meant that he was a perfect match for Texas A&M. He hasn’t been disappointed.
“It’s a really welcoming atmosphere. I’ve always felt like I’m part of something bigger than myself,” he said. “There are a ton of resources on campus and a lot of professors show that they care about your success.”
Coleman is particularly interested in organic chemistry and is participating in the Aggie Research Scholars program for undergraduate students. His research is focused on cancer.
“CD44, a transmembrane receptor, is overly produced in embryonic stem cells, and studies show this overproduction is directly linked so various forms of cancer. CD44 is activated when specific natural molecules bind, leading to increased growth and survival of cancerous cells,” Coleman said.
“Our research goal is to test whether this receptor can be blocked by the non-natural amino acid, boronophenylalanine, so that the growth promoting molecules cannot bind,” he said. “This will be achieved through the incorporation of this amino acid onto a protein on the surface of a phage, which is a small bacterial virus, and exposure of this phage to the CD44. Phage display of the non-natural amino allows for the rapid production of potential peptide sequences whose binding properties for CD44 can be quantified.”
Coleman, who is also a Regents Scholar, has been involved in a variety of service efforts across campus. He’s a mentor in the Foundations of Continued Undergraduate Success (FOCUS) Learning Community through Texas A&M’s Office for Student Success. In that role, Coleman works with three other mentors to assist incoming freshmen, many of whom are first-generation students like himself, as they transition into college. He also serves as a tutor through Texas A&M’s Academic Success Center’s TutorHub.
His professors believe Coleman will have a strong professional career ahead of him.
“Demonta is an outstanding student with many options before him. He has significant research experience, is a peer mentor and tutor, and excellent academician,” said Dr. Elizabeth Crouch, CVM’s associate dean for undergraduate education, who nominated Coleman for the college-level award. “What most stands out when you speak with him is his enthusiasm for learning and his excitement about his future. And, truly, he is a student who has excelled and will continue to excel in all his future endeavors.”
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org; 979-862-4216