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Four MCB Concentrators and One CPB Concentrator Join Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Honor Society

Four MCB Concentrators and One CPB Concentrator Join Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) Honor Society

Five seniors from concentrations administered by the MCB department have been elected to the Harvard chapter of the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) academic honor society. Established in 1776, PBK is the oldest continuously operating honor society in the United States. 

These seniors–Benjamin Chang (CPB & Computer Science ‘24), Sarah Girma (MCB & Mathematics ‘24), Michelle Lu (MCB & Computer Science ‘24), Shreya Nair (MCB & Government ‘24), and Natalie Wing (MCB with Secondary in Classics ‘24)–join four of their classmates–Alexander Chen (Neuroscience & Chemistry ‘24), Srihari Ganesh (CPB & Mathematics ‘24), Clarence Ndubisi (MCB ‘24), and Will Nickols (CPB & Statistics ‘24)–who were elected to PBK in the spring.

To learn more about the new PBK electees, keep reading. 

Benjamin Chang (CPB & Computer Science ‘24)

Benjamin Chang plans to pursue a career in synthetic biology research. He recently received a Rhodes Scholarship to study engineering at the University of Oxford next year. 

“Harvard has really taught me the value of a liberal arts education, learning not just practical skills but also new frameworks of thinking and an understanding of how our work affects all levels of society,” says Chang. “I’ve really enjoyed my GenEds, from health care inequity to racial justice, and my core CPB and CS coursework, like MCB60 and CS121, which have developed my scientific intuition.”

He adds, “I’d especially like to give a shoutout to my CPB advisors, Dominic Mao and Monique Brewster, who have really been there for me throughout college, from LS1A to my thesis.” 

Sarah Girma (MCB & Mathematics ‘24)

For Sarah Girma, election to PBK is an honor. “I feel enormously grateful to have been elected to Phi Beta Kappa,” she says. “I am honored that my academic efforts have been recognized, especially at an institution like Harvard that has so many talented students. This award has huge personal significance to me, the daughter of Ethiopian immigrants. It’s a testament to the unwavering support of my family, who have always instilled in me the confidence to aim high. I will do my best to make them, Harvard, and Phi Beta Kappa proud.” 

Girma cites Chem 110, Chem 177, Math 136, and English 182 as pivotal courses in her Harvard education. She says Chem 110 helped her learn about the therapeutic potential of small molecules and ligands and that Chem 177, which covers the chemistry and history of gene editing, caused her to consider the ethical implications of her research. 

“I didn’t expect to declare a joint concentration with math,” Girma continues. “After taking multivariable calculus and linear algebra my first year, I was mesmerized by the applications of math to various fields, including biology, and knew that I wanted to continue studying it in college. Dr. Puskar Mondal’s course MATH 136: Differential Geometry has been one of my favorite math courses. On the surface, it seems unrelated to biology; however, concepts I learned about in the course, such as manifolds, are extremely relevant to modeling biological processes such as protein folding.”

When she’s not working on science or math projects, Girma can often be found writing. She has extensively covered Cambridge City Council and police reform for The Harvard Crimson and says that English 182: Science Fiction with Prof. Stephanie Burt was one of her favorite classes. 

“I’d like to shout out Dr. Dominic Mao, Dr. Monique Brewster, and Professor Clifford Taubes for being fantastic advisors over the past three years,” Girma adds. “ I’m grateful to Dr. Puskar Mondal, Professor Stephanie Burt, and Professor Matthew Shair for their constant support. I am enormously thankful to David Liu for providing me with the opportunity and resources to have done exciting research with his lab in gene editing and disease therapeutics since sophomore year.” 

Michelle Lu (MCB & Computer Science ‘24)

Michelle Lu is looking forward to being a member of PBK. “I’m very honored to have been elected to PBK among this cohort of incredibly talented peers,” she says. 

Lu says that CS120 (Intro to Algorithms and their Limitations) and MCB112 (Biological Data Analysis) motivated her to pursue a joint concentration in MCB and Computer Science. “I happened to take both [CS120 and MCB112] in my sophomore fall and enjoyed them so much; the former was my first theoretical CS class, and the latter was my first class at the intersection of biology and CS,” Lu says. “These classes directly influenced my decision to eventually switch to the joint concentration, and many thanks to Prof. Salil Vadhan and Prof. Sean Eddy for shaping my academic interests today.” 

Lu thanked several faculty, as well as friends and family, saying, “There are many, many people I’m very grateful for. Dr. Vincent and Prof. Church, who have been amazing advisors in my thesis research. Prof. Vadhan, Dr. Hesterberg, Prof. Anshu, and Dr. Pan, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Teaching Fellow under. Prof. Leger-Abraham, Dr. Brewster, and Dr. Mao, who have guided me through the MCB concentration. My family and friends, for always being my biggest cheerleaders. And the professors, teaching staff, and mentors that have supported me throughout my academic journey. Thank you all so very much!” 

Shreya Nair (MCB & Government ‘24)

Shreya Nair says her election to PBK was a welcome reminder of all the people in her life who have supported her. “The best part was the period before they announced the award — all my professors, friends, and mentors who reached out to say they were rooting for me,” Nair says. “It reminded me of how many people have helped me become the scholar I am, and how many people I want to make proud.” 

Nair cites some of her core science as pivotal points in her Harvard experience. “I met so many of my lifelong friends through LS1B and CHEM 17, so I’ll always be grateful for those courses. Puzzling through PKS questions really brings you together,” she says.

During her time at Harvard, Nair has been interested in the intersections between life sciences and society. She is pursuing a secondary in Global Health and Health Policy. Nair gave a shout out to Professor Jennifer Hochschild of the Center for Government and International Studies. “I worked with her last year on genomic policy research,” Nair says. “Her support gave me the opportunity — and courage — to apply my scientific background to legal spheres.” 

Natalie Wing (MCB with Secondary in Classics ‘24)

Natalie Wing is enthusiastic about joining PBK. “It was a great honor, and I am glad to have been inducted,” she says.

During her time at Harvard, Wing has taken a variety of courses, ranging from science to classics. Wing says that the Greek language classes she has taken with Calliope Dourou motivated her to earn a language citation in Greek and to organize a workshop connecting local Sunday school kids to lung cancer patients in Athens and Thessaloniki. “My Greek professor, Dr. Calliopi Dourou, is one of the nicest and most amazing people I have ever met; Not only has she always been there for me academically–I now have a language citation in modern Greek–but she is also always available outside of class. I asked her to write the rec letter for this, for instance, and without hesitation she said yes and had it done in less than 48 hours.” 

She adds that the two MCB courses that have had the biggest influence on her were MCB 175, which generated an idea for a research proposal that she might later follow up on, and MCB 60, because it introduced her to MCB study groups. 

Please join us in congratulating these new PBK electees! 

(L to R) Benjamin Chang, Shreya Nair, Sarah Girma, Natalie Wing, and Michelle Lu

(L to R) Benjamin Chang, Shreya Nair, Sarah Girma, Natalie Wing, and Michelle Lu