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Standouts include a cancer researcher, an open heart surgery patient, and a pair of national debate runner-ups
by Molly Mohr Bruni
What do you get when a cancer researcher, an open heart surgery patient, and a pair of national debate runner-ups step onto Trinity’s campus? We’ll find out in the fall when the Class of 2022 moves in and begins to make its mark on Trinity. After all, the class is already breaking records. With 8,629 applicants, its application pool was the largest in University history, and at 34 percent, the admit rate was the lowest in recorded Trinity history.
Read more below about standout incoming first-year students.
San Antonio, Texas
Nia Clements is well on her way to curing cancer, and she’s not even in college yet. She began researching gastric cancer at age 13, having to instruct a researcher how to conduct her studies since she herself wasn’t old enough to be allowed inside labs yet. Since then, she’s made breakthroughs with sandalwood oil. Along the way, she’s presented at the White House Science Fair and taken selfies with Bill Nye, Adam Savage, and former vice president Joe Biden.
Clements says she’s always been fascinated with biomedical science since personally diagnosing her class’ pet rat with breast cancer in second grade after finding a lump on its side. The vet confirmed the diagnosis and performed surgery on the rat to remove the lump. Clements asked to keep the tumor, which she brought back in a bottle to her class.
Just a few years later, in fifth grade Clements’ grandfather was diagnosed with gastric cancer. He passed away after two short months with the disease.
“It was really shocking to me to see someone go from perfectly healthy to dying in two months,” Clements says. “One of the things that really struck me about that was how few treatment options there were for him.”
She wondered why there weren’t more drug candidates for gastric cancer. One of the factors, she thought, may be because limited options can survive in the inhospitable environment the stomach creates. Clements spent the next two years developing a hypothesis around a cure for gastric cancer—something that was known for its ability to kill bacteria and withstand strong stomach acid.
“When my grandfather died of gastric cancer, I knew I wanted to try and find a better treatment for the disease,” she explains. “I essentially stumbled across sandalwood oil because I was using it as a face wash for my terrible acne around the time of my grandfather’s death. I knew the oil was an antibacterial agent, and that gastric cancer was postulated to be caused by a bacterial agent.”
Since then, she’s made breakthroughs in the field of gastric cancer cures. Through her studies, Clements found that sandalwood oil doesn’t just kill gastric cancer cells at low concentrations; it also doesn’t appear to be chemically changed after exposure to a stomach-like environment. She had discovered a potential cure that could withstand the destructive stomach acid that so many drugs could not. She then investigated how the oil killed the gastric cancer cells. Clements found that the oil inhibits an ionic current that only helps diseased cells survive and multiply, essentially killing the gastric cancer cells that rely on this ionic current. Recently Clements has expanded this research into oral, colon, and breast cancer cells, too, since they all share the TRPM7-like ion channel. The results are promising: The sandalwood oil also kills these cancer cells.
Clements’ research has led her to present at the White House Science Fair, among other international competitions and conferences. She’s even been on the cover of a popular science magazine, Smore, which encourages young girls to explore STEM fields. And along the way she’s met with Bill Nye (and has a part in his upcoming documentary!) and Adam Savage, and she held a personal meeting with Joe Biden, who was interested in her cancer research because of his son’s death from brain cancer.
Clements, a Keystone School graduate, is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology at Trinity to continue her disease research and minoring in entrepreneurship to package the oil into products such as a gum and mouthwash for oral and throat cancer patients (she’s already packaged it into a capsule for gastric cancer patients). In fact, she says the entrepreneurship program is one of the main factors that influenced her decision to attend Trinity, a school she didn’t initially consider seriously since she thought she lived too close (on Mulberry Drive, which lines the campus). But after attending the Stumberg Venture Competition, Clements thought, “This is what I see myself doing in college.”
Read more about Clements.
Joshua Morgan’s two passions are playing the violin and running. But during the fall of his senior year, his cross country times began not only plateauing, but worsening—fast. On top of that, he was having trouble breathing during hard workouts.
Concerned for his health, Morgan’s coach recommended he visit his general practitioner to see if asthma, or something similar, was the case. His doctor noticed his heart was beating louder than usual, but that wasn’t out of the ordinary for an athlete. To be on the safe side, he referred Morgan to a cardiologist, and the cardiologist ordered an echocardiogram.
That’s when the cardiologist found the tumor on his heart. At 8 cm by 4 cm, the tumor was three times the size anyone had seen at the Heart Hospital of Austin, and it was only allowing 10 to 20 percent blood flow. Morgan was immediately scheduled for open heart surgery the next day. The tumor was successfully removed, and after a short hospital stay, he was cleared to return home.
Morgan thought he’d be away from one of his passions for at least six months, but the doctor encouraged him to start running after just two and a half. And at his first race of the spring season, he created a personal record (PR). But then his times didn’t improve the rest of the season, a frustrating plateau after all he’d been through.
The doctors blamed the stall on his weight gain after the surgery; his body was getting used to running with the extra weight. So Morgan pushed on, and at the final race of the season, he found his breakthrough.
Exactly six months to the day of his surgery, Morgan not only ran a 4:45 mile—he smashed his previous PR by 16 seconds.
What better way to end the school year? Oh yeah, in April he performed at Carnegie Hall on his birthday, playing the violin in his school’s orchestra. Another one of his passions, and another unforgettable moment.
Morgan lists off a variety of reasons he wanted to attend Trinity, including its proximity to home, his teachers’ great experiences there as students, and the class sizes.
“I came from a small high school, and I like that the small class sizes allow you to get to know your professors better and be closer to them,” Morgan says. “I wanted to continue that style of class in college.”
Morgan also chose to attend Trinity because he’ll be able to pursue his two passions. He’ll be part of Trinity track and cross country, and he’s definitely auditioning for the orchestra. Other than that, he doesn’t know what he’ll pursue, and that’s the other reason he picked Trinity:
“I did a lot of research,” Morgan explains. “And Trinity seemed like a place where I could take a bunch of classes and go in fully not knowing what I want to do with my life, and have a lot of time to explore and find out what I’m passionate about.”
As a debate duo, Nathan Glancy and Nasim Salehitezangi have made history at Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois. The pair first debated together sophomore year, winning the junior varsity national tournament and three other tournaments (some even varsity-level). They teamed up again senior year, in which they won not only their school’s first national major tournament, but also the first state tournament championship in school history. The pair capped off the year taking home second place in the nation at the National Speech and Debate Tournament, which Trinity sponsored (the irony is not lost on them).
All of this success is compounded by the fact that their high school’s debate team is only finishing its ninth year, while other teams have been running for more than three decades.
“We’re the second generation of the Niles West debate team,” Glancy says proudly.
So when Glancy and Salehitezangi began looking at colleges, they knew they wanted to earn debate scholarships. Trinity offered them generous financial aid packages, including Trustees' scholarships and Baker Duncan scholarships, which allowed them to compare other admissions factors.
“The things that drew me to Trinity were the depth that you get for such a small school, and things like student-to-teacher ratio, the fact that [it has] so many professors with so many disciplines at such a small school, that [it’s] focused on undergraduate research,” Glancy lists.
It was a campus visit that sealed the deal for Glancy, though.
“The campus at Trinity knocks most of the other schools that I’ve seen dead, comparatively,” he explains. “I love the nature, the fact that it’s close to the city but yet still it’s own place. It had a very attractive and welcoming feel to it, and I also knew I’d be able to build a really strong bond with a lot of professors and place some roots in San Antonio.”
Of course, Salehitezangi and Glancy discussed Trinity with each other, but it wasn’t “I’ll go if you go,” Glancy says. But he was the first to visit, and Salehitezangi was on the fence about other schools, so Glancy had only five words for her: “You just need to visit.” After that, “it was pretty much a done deal for her,” he says.
“When you got on campus, you really feel like you can spend the next four years there,” Salehitezangi explains. “It feels like a place where you can call your second home because the campus is very gorgeous and there are a lot of great factors about going to a small school—small classes, the ability to connect with your professors. That’s obviously very preferable, especially if you’re looking to get an education that’s more tailored to you.”
Glancy was still deciding once Salehitezangi made up her mind. He had comparable scholarship offers from different universities, so he considered, money aside, which school did he really want to attend?
“I couldn’t forget the campus visit,” Glancy says simply.
Molly Mohr Bruni is the managing editor for Strategic Communications and Marketing. She can’t wait to meet these four students—and hundreds more!—when they move in this month. She can be reached at mmohr [at] trinity.edu.