Bridgeport, W.Va. native Sundus Lateef arrived at West Virginia University as a shy, hesitant freshman. Getting involved in research has since helped the WVU Foundation Scholar and Eberly Scholar break out of her shell.
“I was very hesitant to try new things, to step outside of my comfort zone during my first year of college. I stuck to the script: go to class, eat meals, do homework, rinse and repeat! While I was a successful student, I wasn't fulfilling my curiosity for new ideas,” said Lateef, a biology and chemistry student. “That's where undergraduate research really helped. I led research projects, taught my skills to others and traveled to present my work. Then I also pushed myself to practice public speaking skills. I knew that I needed to become more confident in public speaking, especially to large crowds, so I spoke at events like Meet WVU, WVU Distinguished Scholars and Mountaineer Talks.”
Also an Honors College member, Lateef’s experiences in Jeffrey Petersen’s Honors CHEM 117/118 course motivated her to pursue undergraduate research as a freshman. Now, she conducts laboratory research on genetic and infectious diseases, having published three journal articles and presented 10 research talks.
“I’ve been fortunate to publish my work in peer-reviewed journals and travel to present and compete at poster presentations,” Lateef said. “The scientific community at WVU is thriving. My mentors have always had their office doors open to me.”
However, Lateef can’t pick just one favorite professor.
“I am extremely fond of my research mentors and chemistry and biology professors. They taught me how to become a better scientist and citizen of the world. But I am also very passionate about learning new languages,” Lateef said. “I didn't realize that my favorite language of all might be a dead language! Dr. Robert Tallaksen, my Latin professor, taught me the intricacies of Latin. We translated myths, the Pope's speeches and ancient records from Latin to English. We even made Latin memes in class! Dr. Tallaksen inspires me to continue studying my passions beyond the world of science.”
Outside the classroom, Lateef can be found volunteering with many organizations, including Scotts Run Settlement House and the Sundale Care Center Nursing Home. Since 2013, she has volunteered as a chemistry peer mentor, totaling 200 hours tutoring freshman chemistry and organic chemistry students in exam preparation and laboratory exercises. She has also moderated West Virginia Quiz Bowl and officiated West Virginia Science Bowl tournaments for the last four years.
“Community service makes me feel connected to WVU. When I'm at my busiest is when I have to take time away from my studies and do something for the University,” Lateef said. “I might make a mistake on an exam, but if I can make someone's day brighter byy tutoring them or bringing them happiness, all of my little worries seem to melt away.”
Lateef plans to attend medical school in the fall, and she hopes to eventually teach and conduct research at an academic institution.
“As a student at WVU, you can change the University to make it better. The faculty want you to innovate, to create new programs and to add your talents to the existing organizations at WVU,” Lateef said. “At WVU, you are supported and listened to, no matter how ambitious your goals are. Professors notice you and want you to succeed. It's a very nurturing environment!”