Goldwater Scholar 2018: Rebecca Mancusi

Mancusi earns prestigious award for quality research and commitment to mentoring.

Rebecca Mancusi working in a lab in the Smart Engery Building.
Rebecca Mancusi working in a lab in the Smart Engery Building.
Rebecca Mancusi working in a lab in the Smart Engery Building.

Junior biomedical engineering major Rebecca Mancusi was recently awarded the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics and engineering in America, The Barry Goldwater Scholarship. Mancusi is one of only four students from Binghamton University’s Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science to ever be recognized as a Goldwater Scholar.

Mancusi is joining an elite club of some of the best researchers in the world and a global network that will follow her throughout her career. To even be considered for the scholarship, she had to first be selected as a representative from Binghamton University. “It’s an extensive process,” Mancusi said. “Only 200 students in the country win the award every year. I am honored and privileged to be a Goldwater Scholar.”

For the past three years, Mancusi has participated in groundbreaking undergraduate research in Assistant Professor Brian Callahan’s biochemistry lab. Together, they’re developing a novel procedure to monitor and assess a biochemical signaling pathway in cancer cells. According to Mancusi, “Developing a method to accurately monitor a signaling pathway so often implicated in cancer will enable us to measure the effectiveness of drugs and new treatments against these cancers.” She added, “Dr. Callahan has been a source of motivation and encouragement for me since day one. The research experiences I have gained in his lab have translated into great success during my summer research internships.”

During her summer research internship at Mount Sinai last year, she received top marks for the immunology research she did there. At Mount Sinai, she worked on developing a humanized mouse model of LCH (an inflammatory disease afflicting children). After processing human samples, Mancusi helped to engineer a specific population of immune cells to express a mutation characteristic of LCH. Once the pathogenic cells are transplanted into the mice, researchers wait to observe any symptoms of LCH. This model ultimately provides the platform necessary to explore new treatment options for LCH. This research was the basis for the essay she submitted in her Goldwater application.

Mancusi’s experience with research was only part of what made her application stand out. “There’s also a component of the application that addresses your interaction with the scientific community. Besides gaining scientific knowledge for yourself, the committee wants to know what you do to share that knowledge with others,” Mancusi said. “The Goldwater committee members want to fund someone who will become a leader in their field, teaching our future generations of scientists.”

For Mancusi, mentorship has been a major component of her success, and she continues to pay it forward. Her drive to mentor other students comes from her own research experience. Mancusi has been doing research ever since her high school internship at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. She said she has been lucky to find mentors with whom she stays in contact at both Regeneron and Mount Sinai. To serve as a similar source of support for students, she has worked as an undergraduate course assistant and currently mentors younger students in the biomedical engineering program. This year, she will serve as president of the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) and will continue participating in the society’s mentorship programs.

“My mentoring experiences help me realize that when I become a PhD student or a scientist, it’s going to be very important to motivate others and help move them forward. Research is a competitive field. You apply for funding or certain awards and don’t always get them. You need the encouragement of mentors to help keep going,” she said.

This summer, Mancusi will be interning at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It’s a perfect fit for someone interested in cancer biology, and she is looking forward to the connections she will make there.

“With each internship or research project, my interests change. I get really invested in the research I’m doing,” Mancusi said. “If I had to pick one area that I’m most excited about, it would be using immunotherapy to treat cancer. It’s a novel approach because, conventionally, scientists try to target the cancer cells, but immunotherapy empowers the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.”

While Mancusi still has a year left to finish her bachelor’s degree, she’s already thinking about starting her PhD in cancer biology. “I love learning. I don’t want to stop learning anytime soon. I’m eager to continue my education and expand my knowledge even further.”