Northeastern University

First Torch researcher graduates

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As a Freshman, Monyrath Chan became the first Torch Scholar to pursue research at Northeastern.

Torch is a scholarship program dedicated to closing the achievement gap for first-generation, low-income students from diverse backgrounds. Torch students receive comprehensive support that improves their college retention rate, leadership opportunities, social capital and academic achievement.

Chan used that support to fuel a lifelong fascination in chemistry and biology. After leaving Cambodia as a child and moving to Lowell, MA where he learned early on to avoid negative influences in gangs and community violence, Chan joined the Northeastern community hit the ground running.

He worked in three research labs during his time year, investigating circadian rhythms with Fred Davis and DNA repair with Penny Beuning.

For his three co-ops, Chan worked at local biotech firms EMD Sorono and Genzyme. The latter offered him a full time position immediately after his second co-op, which Chan turned down in order to continue pursuing his educational goals. Today, Chan and his nine fellow Torch Scholars, became the second graduating class of the program.

Chan is now determined to further his education. He has applied to 12 biochemistry master’s programs, with Northeastern at the top of the list. Eventually, he will also pursue an MBA as he hopes to one day lead a biotech firm of his own.

Chan’s work over the last five years embodies what it means to be a Northeastern researcher — stepping out of his circumstances to to pursue the bigger questions that can help improve circumstances for others.

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I was curious how Chan found out about the Torch program. Here’s what he told Torch Program Director, Jana McCarthy, in a phone conversation recently:

I saw a letter about Torch informing my [high school] guidance counselor about what kind of students Torch is looking for.

I immediately went to the Torch website and read the profile of QinRui Pang (Torch Class 1 Graduate) and felt her profile fit mine. Like QinRui, I immigrated here, barely spoke any English, and faced similar challenges. I thought maybe I should apply and take a chance.

I asked one of my teachers to nominate me for the Scholarship and explained why I would be a good fit for the Program. I thought maybe this is the right scholarship for me. After the application deadline, I got a letter stating I was chosen as one of the top 50 out of 500 students in the country who applied.

Interview Day was nerve-wracking. I had gone to another Scholarship interview and thought it would be similar but it wasn’t. I was asked to bring a support figure and chose to bring my college counselor. We left Lowell at 5:30 in the morning and took the train to Boston. I remember the questions to this day: What is your motivation to achieve higher education? Based on my leadership and involvement, how do I balance my schedule?

I think I was chosen as a Torch scholar for my desire to achieve. I am one of those people who knows who I want to be no matter what. I am going to put everything I have in me to achieve. I owe my achievement to my parents – it’s bigger than me. I have a desire to be a greater individual.

Without the Torch Scholarship, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities. I had a lot of doors open to me at Northeastern because of Torch. I had mentors who opened the doors to research and fell in love with research. Without meeting my mentors, I would have been doing something else. I would have been a different person without Torch and Northeastern.

Without Torch, I wouldn’t be graduating with a Bachelors in Science.

Thanks to McCarthy for providing a lot of the content in this whole post, too!

Photo by Kristie Gillooly


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