By Christine Murray
Nieghel Downer has always been interested in how the brain works, but it wasn't until he got to Binghamton University that he realized he wanted to study integrative neuroscience.
"It was kind of a light-bulb moment for me," the 20-year-old junior from Queens said. "I was undecided but once I was pushed, I knew that I wanted to study neuroscience."
For Downer, the final push came the beginning of his sophomore year. "I thought that I would have until the end of my sophomore year to decide, but because I'm part of EOP, I needed to decide at the beginning of the year. But it worked out."
The Equal Opportunity Program has not only helped Downer realize what major he wants to pursue at Harpur College, it's also given him the opportunity to explore his interests outside of school.
"EOP has been amazing," Downer said. "They've pushed me to succeed and do my best, no matter the hardships or obstacles I might be facing. They've given me so many opportunities in school and outside of school."
At the recommendation of EOP director Vanessa Young, Downer spent the summer of 2014 working at the Hurd Laboratory, Molecular Neuropsychopharmacology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in Manhattan. Downer worked with Dr. Yasmin Hurd '82 and Michael Miller '10, both Harpur College graduates, studying the interaction of THC and heroin in the brain and how THC simulates the intake of heroin.
"I'm interested in how drug exposure effects the human brain," Downer said. "It's all really interesting, and it inspires me to take the classes I need to here, get into medical school and achieve my dreams. I want to become a neurosurgeon."
Working at Icahn School of Medicine inspired Downer to want to attend Mt. Sinai for medical school upon graduating from Binghamton. While working for Hurd, Downer was given the opportunity to attend a seminar at Icahn about applying to medical school.
"The way that Icahn was portrayed during that seminar, I just decided on the spot: This is where I want to go," Downer said.
While the work at Hurd Laboratory had a positive effect on Downer, he had a similar effect on the laboratory. Miller, who is a doctorate candidate at Mt. Sinai, said he was excited to learn about working with a Harpur College student.
"I had high expectations," Miller said. "Within the first few days of his internship, Nieghel fully met and surpassed these expectations."
Downer now realizes his dream of going to medical school, but he did not always feel this way.
"I always wanted to help people," Downer said. "When I was applying to Binghamton my senior year of high school I started to think about maybe going to medical school, but it wasn't until here that I realized (I wanted to go to) medical school. My friends, mentors, and EOP family are the ones who have helped me decide to pursue becoming a doctor."
While the EOP program has inspired Downer, it has also become a family to him. "We all come from a similar background and can relate to each other through that. Coming before the school year starts, we were all able to bond with one another and those bonds haven't broken. EOP and Binghamton has been a family to me."
Having this kind of supportive family backing him, Downer knows he will continue to succeed. "I think the EOP family knows that we can do great things, so they push us to meet those expectations and even go beyond. They make us shoot for the stars."
Last Updated: 3/1/17