Perspectives Online

Accentuating the Positive. Park Scholar and Goldwater Scholar Warren Perry learns from experience and keeps an open mind as he endeavors to achieve and serve. By Terri Leith

Warren Perry proudly wears the colors of Kappa Alpha Psi, a social fraternity with a focus on serving the community.
Photo by Becky Kirkland

He is one of the hardest working undergraduates I know. He continually challenges himself with lofty goals and has the abilities and determination to achieve them."

That's a description of N.C. State University student Warren Perry from Dr. Patricia Estes of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Department of Genetics, where Perry is her laboratory research assistant.

Perry, a senior biological sciences major in the College, is a Park Scholar at N.C. State and a recently named 2007-2008 Goldwater Scholar, as well as a member of the University Scholars Program. As telling as those accomplishments are, Perry perhaps most readily defines himself by his membership in Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. The reason? "It's an organization of people who basically want to do well for the community," says Perry. "It's a social fraternity with a focus on community awareness, with a goal to achieve and serve."

In Gardner Hall, Perry studies genes that affect central nervous system development.
Photo byBecky Kirkland
Serving the community is at the heart of Perry's ambitions to enter medical school and become a physician in a research-based clinical practice. "My career goal," he says, "is in two areas: I want to do community service and help people with epilepsy."

Perry, whose interest in the disease stems from its occurrence in members of his own family, says, "My plan is to become part of a clinical-based program, with a focus on the relationship between epilepsy and genetics - family lineage. What is the cause? It's still a big question."

His work in Estes' Gardner Hall lab, Perry says, is "what really nailed me down to genetics-based research. We're determining genes that affect central nervous system development, and to do that we're looking at transcription factors through two new projects: First to look at conserved regions of DNA - regions that have stayed constant throughout evolution - and second to amplify the conserved region once we find it."

Perry works about nine hours per week in the lab, "while maintaining excellence in his classes," says Estes.

"The research in our lab uses the fruit fly (Drosophila) as a model," she says. "After uncovering important genes in flies, Warren wants to determine if mammalian genomes contain similar genes with analogous functions. Notably, previous work from a large number of laboratories indicate that many of the genes that play important roles in the development of the nervous system in flies have similar roles in mammalian systems.

Perry, a biological sciences major who plans to attend medical school after graduation, currently volunteers as a certified nurse assistant at Raleigh's Alliance Medical Ministry.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
"Warren has become familiar with fruit fly genetics and nervous system development very quickly.

He has also produced high quality images of the Drosophila central nervous system, using immunohistochemistry," says Estes.

After Perry had been in the lab only four months, Estes says, he presented his work at the university's undergraduate research symposium, and last spring, he presented his work at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in Asheville. "In addition, he was a co-author on a poster presented this past March at the national Drosophila Research Conference in Philadelphia," she says.

"He asks excellent questions during lab meetings and clearly understands the significance of the work. Ultimately, Warren is interested in applying this information to treatments for patients who have had damage to the central nervous system."

Perry, who is from Wendell, also wants to provide for those who don't have ready access to health care. "My community is very rural, close-knit," he says. "The local medical resources are dwindling. There needs to be more health care in small communities."

He already does volunteer work at Raleigh's Alliance Medical Ministry. "It's a doctors' office that gives primary care to people without health insurance - including immigrants, minorities and college students," Perry says.

His role there is that of a certified nurse assistant, taking patients' blood pressure and other vital signs, handling paperwork - and getting hands-on health-care experience. "Often the patients have first come to the emergency room at Wake Med, which then sends them to (Alliance) for follow-up," he says. "Our goal is to get patients to a place where they're regularly keeping up with their health.

"The fact that it's a nonprofit and people are so appreciative makes it rewarding. The patients have no expectations and so are so grateful for any help you can give them," says Perry, who is working on his Spanish-language proficiency to help in communicating with many of the patients there.

His volunteer work also includes tutoring high school students in physics, chemistry and biology through a Shaw University program. Perry is a product of that program; as a high school student, he did so well there that he was later asked to be a tutor himself.

"Warren cares a great deal about helping others and making the world a better place," says Laura Lunsford, Park Scholarship program director at N.C. State. "Add to that how much fun he is to be around, his wonderful sartorial style and his great sense of humor."

Perry says he has enjoyed the friendships he's made with his fellow Park Scholars and the opportunities "to go in the director's office and talk to her any time. It's a family environment - really nice." The Park program also enabled him to secure a grant for a research project done at Alliance Medical in 2006 to study its productivity in the community.

Ironically, it was when Perry first learned of his selection as a Park Scholar during his senior year at Southeast Raleigh High School that he faced a most challenging time in his life.

"When I got the Park Scholarship, some people at my school implied I got it only because of my race," says Perry, who graduated from Southeast with a 4.3 GPA. "My parents told me, 'You have the attitude, the ability to prove people wrong.' That was the motivation, to prove them wrong," he says. "You have to rise above all that and inspire yourself."

Says Lunsford, "I am most proud of Warren for teaching people that success comes in all colors, because too often still, black students are told they are recognized because of their color, not because of their ability. He stood up to that stereotype publicly - a very hard thing to do, even in 2007 - and this best illustrates his strength of character and leadership. N.C. State is fortunate that Warren decided to come here for his education. He truly has maximized his opportunities and will make an exceptional scientist."

Perry has maintained a 4.0 GPA at N.C State, and among his classes, he says, "Biochemistry with Dr. James Knopp has been the most challenging. You have to be on your toes, and I like that! What I've enjoyed most is my microbiology lab with Dr. Mark Keen, and I've also enjoyed organic chemistry." John Charles' African American literature class, with its offerings of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and the writings of Frederick Douglas, is another favorite.

Perry is one of four N.C. State students selected as a Goldwater Scholar this year, and they are among 317 recipients of the honor selected from a field of 1,110 mathematics, science and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. Winning the coveted award, he says, was a two-year process. "I didn't get it the first time I applied, so I went after it (again) and I got it."

He was simply following good advice he received from his parents. "They told me, 'You have to be a go-getter; nothing's given to you.' So I go after what I want."

He used part of his Goldwater Scholarship this summer to study abroad in London at the University of Westminster. "I'm taking a class called international relations in the contemporary world, a liberal arts course," says Perry. "I want to get different opinions about our world in general and our country and the effects of our policies overseas."

Lunsford says, "Warren is a special young man, and I am pleased that the Goldwater Foundation also recognized his talents. I admire him, and I can't wait to see what the future holds for him."

It's a future Perry has mapped out. By summer's end, he planned to be done with with secondary applications to and interviews for medical schools. "And in five to 10 years," he says, "I hope to be graduating from medical school and starting a residency."

Says Estes, "I cannot imagine a better candidate for medical school. Warren is definitely committed to a career in both biomedical research and medicine, and he is an excellent student. For as long as I have known Warren, he has demonstrated a work ethic, ability to reason and focused set of goals that, I believe, perfectly position him to excel in science and medicine."

And as he applies to medical schools, Perry says he's following advice from his cousin, who finished a medical residency in Ohio and has now accepted a position there as director of a hospital burn unit: "He told me go into medical school with an open mind."