Touhey Scholar Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield Leaves Her Mark at Albany Med

Onovu Otitigbe-Dangerfield is the first African American valedictorian in Albany High School’s 152-year history—a story that’s been capturing a lot of attention lately, with coverage from “Good Morning America” and other national news outlets.

When asked the secret of her success, she said, “There’s an African proverb I really like: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ People ask me, how do you do it all? I don’t. I have so much support. My family. My teachers. My friends.”

Whenever she embarks on a new project, she said, “I think about the relationships I’m building. It’s great to come out of something with a new friend or ally.”

One of those allies has been Albany Medical College. Last summer, Otitigbe-Dangerfield participated in the Albany Med Cancer Research Education (CaRE) Program, which was developed through the Department of Surgery by Vice Chair of Research Michael DiPersio, PhD, and Assistant Professor Sita Subbaram, PhD.

The CaRE Program is funded by the Carl E. Touhey Foundation to annually support four underrepresented minority students from Albany High School who hope to pursue careers in biomedical science or health care.
These Touhey scholars, alongside four high-school students in Albany Med’s Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP), spend a summer working with scientists and researchers in the Department of Surgery where they develop lab skills and professional development strategies.

“Onovu kind of blew our socks off,” said Dr. DiPersio. “We’re very happy about her success, but we’re not surprised.” Dr. Subbaram added, “She’s a great communicator. She knows how to express herself and she knows how to listen.”

Otitigbe-Dangerfield said she hasn’t always felt self-possessed. She remembers, early in her high school career, walking into her first Robotics Team meeting and, intimidated by being the only person of color in the room, turning around and walking out. “I would never allow myself to do that again,” she said. “It was so disheartening. I’ve learned you bring your own worth into a space.”

Being a Touhey scholar, she said, gave her her first exposure to the world of medicine—a welcome proposition for someone fascinated by robotic surgery and gene-editing technology.

“It was exciting to do hands-on lab work and converse with real doctors. We did problem solving and journal club. We talked about ethics.” She was struck by the physicians and hospital leaders of color who came to talk to them as guest speakers. And she remembers a mock-interview that made her feel “ultra-prepared” for her first college interview.

“The timing was good,” she said. “They happened pretty close to one another.”

In the fall, Otitigbe-Dangerfield will be heading to Harvard.

She’s kept her relationship with Albany Medical College strong, serving as a research volunteer in the Myelin Lab in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics. And she will serve as a peer mentor to the 2021 class of Touhey scholars, sharing advice on how to prepare for college.

Albany Medical College’s STEP Program is now recruiting 12 students (7 - 11 grade) for its fall semester. Please contact Marva Richards for more information at [email protected].