Kamari Marzette believes in seizing opportunities. Even before she got to high school, she participated in summer STEM programs that fed and fueled her interests in engineering and science.
The Ramsay High School graduate parlayed those early experiences into opportunities — and an accomplishment few college freshmen can claim: Her work as a high school intern in a UAB cancer lab will be included in a research paper to be published later this year.
While her own determination and drive are key factors, Birmingham Promise is playing an important role in ensuring Kamari’s bright future.
For her second semester of research at the UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, Kamari worked as a Birmingham Promise intern. And now, she is officially a UAB student, studying biomedical engineering with help from a Birmingham Promise scholarship.
“I’m beyond words,” Kamari said. “I never thought I could do the things I’ve done.”
Kamari credits significant support she received along the way from her parents, her high school engineering teacher, various mentors and community STEM initiatives, including Girls Inc. and its five-year program, Eureka!
Eureka! – which incorporates STEM and other areas of personal development – provided Kamari her first real exposure to a lab career.
As she entered high school, the program provided her with a series of summer internships at Southern Research, where she spent some time working in an actual lab and learning the basic skills she’d take with her UAB.
She also got to meet and network with Jeffrey Holmes, dean of UAB’s School of Engineering. Showing initiative yet again, Kamari asked Dr. Holmes about opportunities to work at UAB.
This led to her cancer lab work as a high school senior, first as an employee/co-op during the fall semester, then as a Birmingham Promise intern during the spring. The spring internship experience, she said, was bolstered by the supports Birmingham Promise provides students participating in its programs. “The value is what they offer outside the job,” Kamari said. “You have someone who checks in on you. You have someone to call on.”
Her supervisor at UAB called Kamari “an absolute rock star in the lab.”
“My lab researches how mechanical forces interact with tumor cells and how that makes them grow, metastasize, and respond to chemotherapies,” said Mary Kathryn Sewell-Loftin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in biomedical engineering at O’Neal. “Kamari specifically worked on understanding how ovarian cancer cells respond to anti-cancer drugs when we change how the cells ‘feel’ forces around them.”
Kamari proved to be an asset in multiple ways.
“She learned protocols super quickly, helped everyone with their experiments whenever she could, and became confident enough in her skills that she could do entire experiments on her own,” Dr. Sewell-Loftin said. “Kamari was also wonderful to work with, and she taught some of the other students in my lab (undergraduates in biomedical engineering) the protocols and analysis techniques she learned.
“So having Kamari in my lab not only helped produce research results but also helped train others to be successful as well.”
Kamari said the experience was life-changing in more ways than one. For one thing, it steered her to stay at UAB for her college studies, something not initially in her plans. Because of UAB’s special partnership with the Birmingham Promise program, she will receive additional resources, including mentors and advisors, to help ensure that she is successful and gets the most out of her college experience.
“Coming from Birmingham City Schools to UAB is a big change culturally and academically,” she said. “UAB treats each Birmingham Promise class as a cohort and makes so many programs available to us.”
While taking the summer off, Kamari will return to work in the cancer lab in the fall as she pursues what she thinks will be a future in tissue engineering. A current area of interest is cardiac cell therapy that would help people who have had heart attacks regenerate tissue and recover. But, she admits, she continues to find new areas of study that spark her curiosity.
“I just keep finding more and more things I’m interested in,” she said.
As a freshman, Kamari has years to decide how she ultimately wants to apply her already-impressive experience, knowledge and skills. For now, it’s enough to know that the opportunities are both out there and within her reach.
She advises students in Birmingham City Schools to take advantage of programs like Birmingham Promise and to invest the energy to make the most of those opportunities.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up for yourself and to advocate for yourself. It will get you places if people see you have the drive and are willing to learn,” she said. “Even if it’s a lot of work, it will pay off in the end.”