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Above, Grace Ngobo Toko Mbonda '16 explains her research at MCLA's Annual Undergraduate Research Conference in April. Below, Mbonda with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, at the ‘29 Who Shine’ ceremony held at the State House in Boston earlier this month.

‘29 Who Shine’ Recipient Plans Medical Career

05/18/16

As a youth growing up in the Central African nation of Cameroon, Grace Ngobo Toko Mbonda ’16 of Brockton, Mass., worked alongside her mother, a midwife. As she viewed firsthand the negative consequences of inadequate healthcare and a lack of sexual health care education, a seed was planted.

Armed with the knowledge and experience she received as a double major in biology and chemistry at MCLA, Mbonda aspires to a medical career as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

The future is bright for Mbonda who, previous to receiving her Bachelor of Science degree last Saturday at MCLA’s Commencement ceremony, was honored at Boston’s State House as one of the Commonwealth’s “29 Who Shine” award recipients. Each year, this award recognizes outstanding student graduates from across Massachusetts’ public higher education system.

Her senior year was a busy one for Mbonda: She recently participated in MCLA’s Annual Undergraduate Research Conference with her chemistry project, which centered on thermoregulation of virulence genes in Escherichia coli.

The opportunity to conduct research as an undergraduate was “an amazing experience,” Mbonda said. “I was able to put together all the pieces of information I have been learning all these years. Seeing how it all came together was mind-blowing.”

That research came on the heels of her summer internship at the Tufts University School of Medicine in Medford. There, she worked under the supervision of Ph.D. biochemistry student Henry Rogalin in the lab run by Katya Heldwein, Ph.D. The lab’s structural biologists are interested in various aspects of viral lifecycle, including the Herpes Simplex Virus -1 (HSV-1).

“I worked on an independent project that examined the importance of glycoprotein B and H of HSV-1,” Mbonda explained. “This was the best and most tedious summer ever. It was so much fun doing research in a real world lab, outside the classroom sector.”

She plans to expand upon that experience and continue in laboratory research before she begins medical school in fall 2018.

MCLA, she said, was an ideal place to learn about biology and chemistry because of its small class sizes. At the same time, her academic experience was challenging.

“I was required to take classes that I would not have chosen, otherwise,” Mbonda said. “This is the beauty of a liberal arts school. As an honors student, my studies included philosophy and interdisciplinary studies courses. That really broadened my horizons, and made my academic experience much more enriching.”

Active on campus, Mbonda was a co-facilitator for Campus Conversations on Race and worked at the ALANA/Multicultural Center. In addition, she was the vice president of a new club on campus, the African Student Association, which aims to educate the MCLA community on the rich cultures and traditions of Africa.

MCLA provided Mbonda with the tools she needs to succeed through the Center for Success and Engagement (CSSE). Throughout her time on campus, she was advised on a variety of issues, including how to write a cover letter and a resume. She also practiced how to present herself in mock interview sessions.

MCLA’s professors, she said, are always there to help students.

“They have an open door policy. They respond quickly to emails. I will definitely recommend MCLA to others,” Mbonda added. “Not only do you get the bang for your buck, you have excellent teachers who will go above and beyond just to see you succeed.”