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Student Spotlight: Chemistry Graduate to Study at Oxford


Sometimes success is simply a matter of sticking to your guns, no matter what. Take Marsiyana Henricus (FCRH ’08) for instance. As far back as kindergarten, she knew she was going to work in science when she grew up.

“People would say to me, ‘What to you want to be?’ and I would say, ‘I want to be a doctor,’” she said. “Looking back, I don’t think a lot of people believed me, because it’s so difficult. But I did, I stuck to it.”

Marsiyana Henricus Photo by Patrick Verel

This single-minded sense of purpose has guided Henricus, an only child who grew up in Mortuwa, Sri Lanka and Bologna, Italy before settling in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan with her parents.

Last spring, Henricus received a Merage Foundation for the American Dream Fellowship, which will enable her to pursue a master’s degree in chemistry at Oxford University.

Oxford is a long way from the village of Mortuwa, which her family fled due to an ongoing civil war. But in many ways, it’s not surprising that Henricus would find herself at the prestigious British institution.

She visited Oxford on a study-abroad program while attending Dominican Academy High School in Manhattan. When she finished, she said she knew she wanted to return.

She declared her chemistry major early in her time at Fordham, but an interest in philosophy and Catholicism led her to Fordham’s Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies. She credits Curran Center co-director Mark S. Massa, S.J., with putting her on the path to the Merage Fellowship.

“Next to medicine, which I know I’ll end up doing some day, it was my dream to get into Oxford and get a degree,” she said.

As part of the two-year program, which begins this fall, she will be studying under Hagan Bayley, Ph.D., professor of chemical biology. She was one of 15 undergraduates to be accepted to study with Bayley, and one of 12 students to receive the Merage Fellowship.

In applying for the fellowship, Henricus relied on research she conducted at Fordham under Ipsita Banerjee, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry. The research that she proposed doing at Oxford involves hydrophobins, which are proteins derived from fungi.

“We’ve done a lot of research on using proteins for drug delivery, because they’re compatible with the body. But not a lot of people have done things with hydrophobins,” she said.

Even as England beckons with educational opportunities, Henricus said her ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. and an M.D. and return to the United States to work with immigrants who have little access to health care.

“I remember how hard it was on my parents when we came here—learning where to go and what to do when it came to medicine,” she said. “We live in such a diverse city, and you’re around people from all over the world. I can understand where they’ve been and help them through that.”


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