Pitt student Paras Minhas wins Marshall scholarship

Senior to study molecular cell biology in London starting next fall

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University of Pittsburgh senior Paras Minhas already had distinguished himself on campus as a student debate team member, teaching assistant in biological sciences and founder of a local agency that aids orphaned students in Ghana.

Now, the Honors College student majoring in microbiology with minors in chemistry and mathematics has added yet another accomplishment: Recipient of one of the most coveted merit scholarships given to graduating college students in this country.

Mr. Minhas, 20, originally from Bridgewater, N.J., is among 34 students nationwide chosen to receive a 2013 Marshall Scholarship, which supports graduate study in the United Kingdom. Mr. Minhas said he intends to use his two-year award to work toward a doctoral degree in molecular cell biology at University College London starting next fall.

Mr. Minhas, enrolled in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, said he wants to be a physician and scientist working to find novel approaches to mental health treatment using better medical care, scientific research and public policy changes.

While in Britain, he plans to investigate a molecule known as HDAC3.

"We have certain molecules in our body that determine the level of expression of genes, and so in terms of mental illness, HDAC3 may regulate which genes are expressed and which are not," he said. "It can be the difference between someone possibly having depression and not having depression."

He won't have to worry that his study abroad might derail those future plans. Mr. Minhas already has been accepted to Pitt's School of Medicine through a guaranteed admissions program, the university said.

"The selection of Paras Minhas for this very high honor is a tribute to everything that he already has accomplished and is a testament to his potential for path-breaking leadership in the worlds of medicine, education, and public policy," Pitt chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said in a statement.

He said it also reflects the strength of Pitt's student body. Pitt said it is the lone Pennsylvania college or university to have a Marshall winner this year.

"Paras Minhas' activities are characterized by an exemplary work ethic, noteworthy leadership and independence, and unusual maturity," said university Honors College dean Edward M. Stricker.

Mr. Minhas is founding president of Longitude Pittsburgh Organization, a nongovernmental agency that has collected funds for orphaned students at the Professional Secretarial Academy in Accra, Ghana. Mr. Minhas said he taught health education there in summer 2011.

Mr. Minhas was lead author of two peer-reviewed scientific papers that appeared in Critical Care Medicine and Anatomical Sciences Education. He also has held student research positions in laboratories at Pitt, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Mayo Clinic, the university said. He received a Goldwater Scholarship in March 2012.

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Bill Schackner: bschackner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1977.


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