BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jasmine May, a University at Buffalo sophomore
whose fierce ambition to find better treatments for brain cancer
patients is inspired by the recent death of her father, has won the
prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in
The elite honor was given to 278 undergraduate students in the
country pursing degrees in mathematics, the natural sciences and
engineering. May, 19, of Sanborn, was chosen from more than 1,100
top mathematics, science and engineering students nominated by
colleges and universities nationwide.
"This will push me to try to go for bigger scholarships," May
says. "I like seeing my name among the other student winners from
Harvard and Yale. It tells me I can compete with them and still
May joins the ranks of other Goldwater recipients, many of whom
have attracted the interest and attention of prestigious
post-graduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have
been awarded 73 Rhodes Scholarships, 105 Marshall Awards, 90
Churchill Scholarships and numerous other distinguished
fellowships. She will received $7,500 a year for the final two
years of her undergraduate work at UB to cover tuition, fees, books
and other expenses.
May is the daughter of Verneice Turner and Douglas May, who died
from brain cancer during Jasmine's first semester at UB. She hopes
the Goldwater scholarship helps her achieve her goal to become a
professor at a top research university affiliated with a cancer
research institute, an ambition that fits well with UB because of
the university's association with Roswell Park Cancer
May was honored April 1 at UB's Scholars of Excellence luncheon
with other outstanding student scholars. Throughout the luncheon
and subsequent campus and family celebrations, the memory of her
father was never far from her mind.
"He was valedictorian of his graduating class at Clarkson
University, and I'm running an invisible competition with him," she
says. "I have his report card from college. So I can see all his
Douglas May, a mechanical engineer at Praxair, died from brain
cancer when he was in his mid-50s, the same time his daughter
entered her first semester of undergraduate work at UB. A graduate
of Starpoint Central School in Lockport, Jasmine is an only
"He probably would have had a big smile on his face throughout
the ceremony last week if he would have been there," May says. "He
was very quiet man. Quiet, but he was funny. He was very proud of
his family, not of himself but what he was able to provide for
them. He grew up on a farm. And he was proud that he could provide
a home, a good learning environment and a comfortable living
situation for my mother and me. He was just happy to see us
Even amid the recent celebration, May says she can't help but
recall her days as a child.
"I've been focusing on work and not constantly thinking about
him because of the memories. That's hard, so I try to keep him on
my mind and use him for inspiration."
May's research centers around experimental drug therapies to
treat brain cancer. As an undergraduate researcher at UB's
Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB), her main
goal, she says, is to develop new non-invasive bio-imaging and
drug-delivery tools that will allow better prevention, earlier
diagnosis and more effective treatment of cancer. This involves
investigating the properties of different nanostructures -- such as
light emitting silicon nanocrystals -- and tailoring them to
particular cancer applications.
She's working with UB Distinguished Professor Paras Prasad,
executive director of ILPB, one of the nation's most renowned
scientists in the use of nanotechnology to devise treatments for
In addition to Prassad, May cited Folarin Erogbogbo, a
postdoctoral associate at the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and
Biophotonics, as having an important influence on her research. And
she describes UB's Kenneth Takeuchi, PhD, SUNY Distinguished
Teaching Professor in chemistry, as her chief mentor at UB.
"I did an internship in Professor Takeuchi's lab during the fall
and worked alongside his graduate students," she says. "They were
able to teach me techniques that were important for my research
development and for just understanding basic skills that research
scientists should know."
For Takeuchi, May seems like a special mix of talent and
"It has been my pleasure to teach and mentor a number of very
intelligent, bright, articulate and talented students during my
27-year career at UB," says Takeuchi. "And Jasmine May stands out
as a special student.
"Jasmine is multi-talented, being gifted with intelligence,
physical grace and skill, as well as singing ability," he says.
"Possessing so many diverse gifts, Jasmine has elected to devote a
great deal of her time toward her academic and research endeavors,
with her primary motivation being the altruistic goal of helping
solve currently intractable problems in science, which may
ultimately result in improving the health and quality of life for
"Jasmine is special because she makes special choices."
May performs 15 hours of research a week, along with her regular
coursework. Her interests include "hanging out" with her friends,
playing badminton on Fridays and spending time with her boyfriend,
fellow UB student Jeffrey Meyers, who she says has been "very
And she is still very close to her mother, a poet prominent in
local literary circles.
"My mother has always inspired confidence in myself because she
always has been a very strong woman," May says. "She's always tried
to reaffirm a sense of self-love. Of course, you do things for
people. But you make sure you don't hurt yourself in the
"You can't perform the best for others if you can't perform the
best for yourself."
May is among four UB students selected to participate in "SUNY
Undergraduates Shaping New York's Future: A Showcase of Scholarly
Posters at the Capitol," scheduled April 13 in the Legislative
Office Building in Albany.
The Goldwater Scholarship is the latest academic honor she has
received. A CSTEP (Collegiate Science & Technology Entry
Program) scholar, May previously conducted research in UB's
Pharmacology and Toxicology Department. She has received the Dale
Carnegie Leadership Award, the Frederick Douglass and Susan B.
Anthony Award in Humanities and Social Sciences, the Houston
Scholarship and the Provost Scholarship.
The Goldwater Foundation is a federally endowed agency
established by Public Law 99-661 on Nov. 14, 1986. The scholarship
program honoring Sen. Barry M. Goldwater was designed to foster and
encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of
mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. The trustees
that award the Goldwater scholarship include notable people such as
Sen. John McCain. The Goldwater Scholarship is the premier
undergraduate award of its type in these fields.