The Science of Healing
Alphius Sesay ’14 was 13 years old when he and his family left their native Sierra Leone, after enduring years of that country’s civil war. This spring, the Washington College biology major became the first of his family to graduate from college, poised to pursue further education and a career in medicine.
“It’s been a great four years of learning. My knowledge has been broadened by the people I have met and interacted with,” Sesay says. “I think one of the greatest experiences I’ve had here has been with the faculty. We have a very, very strong relationship in many ways. I can send them an email to get a recommendation, or if I’m confused about something. I can stop by their offices and just ask them a question. And sometimes, I just stop by to talk about something that has absolutely nothing to do with academics. In many respects, I feel blessed to have them and they have helped me a lot.”
Over his four years at WC, Sesay participated in three summer medical research internships. The first two, in the University of Maryland Medical School’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, involved cancer research and methods to limit the side effects of chemotherapy. Sesay worked one summer with Dr. Tonya Webb, focusing on “natural killer T-cells” or NKT cells. During his second summer internship, with Dr. Gregory Carey, he studied the role of anti-IGM treatment in lymphoma cells. Last summer, Sesay won an internship at the Stanford Cancer Institute, part of Stanford University’s School of Medicine, where he worked with its director, Dr. Beverly S. Mitchell, in leukemia treatment research.
This most recent internship also offered the opportunity to shadow a physician, an experience that got him out of the lab and interacting with patients. It made him realize that he liked the actual practice of medicine more than research. “I am more interested in having an immediate impact rather than a long-term impact, which is usually the case for research,” he says. He hasn’t yet decided what kind of medicine he will practice; he hasn’t ruled out oncology, although he says that the emotional and human toll cancer takes on both patient and doctor “can be very tough.”
While at WC, Sesay helped form the men’s soccer club and, until this year, was its president. He wanted to start the club as a way to bring international students together, as well as reach out to the Chestertown community by offering Sunday afternoon pick-up games. Sesay was also an SGA senator, but he acknowledges that academics, as well as perfecting his mastery of English both verbally and written, were his priority. He is a member of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society.
Sesay was born during his country’s civil war, which lasted from 1991 to 2002 and killed more than 50,000 people. “I experienced most of the war, but we were lucky enough to be one of the families that were able to come here.” Resettled in Landover, Md., he attended public high school before matriculating at WC. During winter break of 2012, he returned to Sierra Leone.
“I do miss it. Not the violence, but I do miss home. I felt happy that I was able to go back and see some of my friends, and just to be able to go back and look. Going back to some places recalled some terrible memories, and it was difficult at some moments. But overall I was happy to be able to go and at least see what my country looks like now, after the war.”
After graduation in May, Sesay planned to take a year to study and sit for his MCATS, as well as apply to medical school.