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Biology grad continues educational journey

July 24, 2019
Asra Khan, biology graduate professional headshot

Asra Khan is a self-proclaimed nerd — and proud of it.

Conducting research, learning about how the human body works, talking science — these are the kinds of things that get her excited.

This summer, she’ll start grad school in the next phase of her educational journey to become a physician assistant. Before that, though, she looks back on where she got her start — York College of Pennsylvania — and how it propelled her to where she is now.

More than a mentor

Asra didn’t know Dr. Meda Higa, but in her sophomore year, as she listened to the York College assistant professor of Biology talk about her research on viruses as part of a lecture series at the school, she knew she wanted to change that.

“I don’t know you, and I haven’t taken a class with you yet,” Asra said to Dr. Higa after the lecture, “but I want to talk to you about my research project.”

Dr. Higa has been Asra’s mentor ever since.

It’s that accessibility of professors that was a driving force in Asra’s choice to attend York College in the first place. She didn’t want to be one of 200 students in a lecture hall. She wanted to know her professors — and for them to know her.

She found that at York College.

“It’s a tight-knit community,” she says. “I loved that I could talk with any professors. They were all very approachable.”

Dr. Higa and Asra met two to three times a week over the year and a half it took to complete Asra’s project, but their relationship as mentor and mentee has continued well beyond that, even after graduation.

Asra is getting married soon, and Dr. Higa will absolutely be there.

A strong foundation

After graduating from York College with a degree in Biology in 2015, Asra worked at the National Institute of Health as a research scientist in a tumor immunology lab. There, she met grads from schools across the county and found that her education at York College prepared her just as well as those from Ivy League schools.

From conducting scientific research and troubleshooting within science experiments to analyzing data and collaborating with other scientists, York College had built the foundation she needed to compete in the real world.

“I had the right scientific knowledge for what I was doing,” she says.

Her experience working on her thesis project with Dr. Higa had helped her form the critical and independent thinking to be successful.

“Having those skills that I learned at York College were vital to helping me grow and learn how to troubleshoot later on in life at my first job,” she says.

The space to learn and grow

Asra went to school thinking she’d become a doctor one day. But, as she progressed through her course work and learned more about her own priorities and opportunities in the scientific field, that plan changed.

“York really offered me the opportunity to figure out what I liked and didn’t like,” she says. “It helped me figure out who I want to be as a person.”

She loves learning new things, and she’s excited to take the next step to become a physician assistant, where there’s flexibility to try different things in the medical field.

“I’m obviously one small puzzle piece in the field, but it’s exciting,” she says.

York College gave her the foundation for her professional career, and it was also where she formed some of her longest-lasting friendships.

Many of these friends will be there at her wedding along with Dr. Higa. It will be a kind of mini-reunion with the people who were there at the beginning, before taking the next step in the scientific discovery of Asra.

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