NCCU awards first doctorates in a half century

N.C. Central University will award three Ph.D.s on Friday, its first doctoral degrees in more than 50 years.

The milestone happens at 3 p.m. in the university’s commencement ceremony for about 500 graduate and professional students.

The three graduates will receive doctorates in integrated biosciences. They are: Rasheena Edmondson from Wilson County; Elena Arthur, originally from Ghana; and Helen Onabanjo from Nigeria.

The university awarded doctoral degrees in education from 1955 to 1964, but that degree was discontinued.

The biosciences program was started years ago, as part of NCCU’s focus on training students to work in biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry. Friday’s graduates are the first to finish the program, which offers tracks in biomedical sciences and pharmaceutical sciences.

“We are very excited,” said NCCU’s interim Chancellor Johnson Akinleye. “We had a reception for them and their families, and they were very thrilled. This is going to be a big deal.”

The biosciences degree was approved by the UNC Board of Governors in 2011, and the first students enrolled in 2012. The program’s focus is the study of health disparities, incorporating knowledge from various fields such as biology, biomedical and behavioral sciences, chemistry, physics, bioinformatics, computer science/information science, environmental sciences and pharmaceutical sciences.

The three graduates have worked in diverse areas of research.

Edmondson, who wants to join the pharmaceutical industry, has worked alongside NCCU professor Liju Yang, studying cellular activities.

Arthur worked with NCCU professor Jiaua Xie on research into proteins that could protect beta cells in the pancreas, which are diminished in patients with diabetes. Arthur plans to enter into a postdoctoral program following graduation.

Onabanjo worked with NCCU professor Kevin Williams on cancer research. She plans to begin her career in drug development.

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill