UAH COS honors graduate Desalyn Johnson to enter UAB medical school, earn dual degrees

Desalyn Johnson

After graduating from UAH, Desalyn Johnson will seek a dual MD/MPH degree allowing her to get a Master’s of Public Health as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Desalyn Johnson discovered biology at the age of 12, and it changed her life forever. “We learned about the human body systems for the first time. All the organelles and cells that make up our bodies amazed me. So, I decided to pursue medicine as a career,” said Johnson, an honors student who will graduate from The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) on May 2, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences.

Johnson, “an Army brat” calls Toney, AL home. She graduated from Sparkman High School as an Advanced Placement and National Achievement Scholar, and in the top 10 percent of her class.

“I decided to attend the UAH College of Science (COS) because the academic programs and scholarship opportunities impressed me. I was excited about Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, and I knew UAH would prepare me to succeed in my academic endeavors.”

Being a physician someday is Johnson’s idea of a “dream job, because I will be able to mix my love for people and my love for science into one profession.” She is especially interested in Human Physiology and Pathophysiology. Johnson is pursuing her passion of becoming a physician full speed ahead. She has conducted research through the university’s Research and Creative Experience for Undergraduates, a 10-week full-time research program.

“Under the tutelage of my research advisor, Dr. Debra Moriarity (retired UAH Professor and Department Chair Biological Sciences), I exposed essential oil samples to MCF-7 breast cancer cells. The goal of the project was to discover natural products that were cytotoxic or in other words products that can kill cancerous cells,” said Johnson. “After the summer program, I continued with the project until I discovered conclusive results. I then wrote my honors thesis about my research. The thesis title was “The Cytotoxic Effects of Essential Oils on Estrogen Receptor Positive MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cell Line.” Johnson's manuscript was published in the fall 2018 issue of the UAH undergraduate research journal, Perpetua.

“My time working with Dr. Moriarity was invaluable. While working in her lab, I learned so much about my weaknesses and strengths. It was a challenge, which caused me to stretch myself in new ways,” Johnson said. “I will forever be grateful that I had the opportunity to perform research with Dr. Moriarity.

“My experience at UAH has been very rewarding. I have made so many friends and developed relationships that I will never forget,” Johnson said. “Serving as a College of Science Ambassador has allowed me to build great working relationships with Dr. Sundar Christopher, Dean, COS and Dr. Emanuel Waddell, Associate Dean COS. The same is true for Dr. William Wilkerson, Dean of the Honors College. All three of them have provided academic and professional guidance and support that has encouraged me immensely.

“Desalyn has left a mark at UAH. Her academic success is but one facet of her persona,” said Dr. Emanuel Waddell, COS Associate Professor and Associate Dean. “She has been an important part of the College of Science Ambassadors and UAH LSAMP. Her presence will be missed as she represents the university well to stakeholders and students.”

Johnson said, too, that her relationships with her fellow classmates, ambassadors and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) scholars have been extraordinary. “We are always there to encourage, support and inspire one another. In addition, there are so many other professors, mentors, and friends not mentioned here that have positively affected me.

“The curriculum at UAH is difficult however, it has taught me the importance of hard work and determination,” Johnson said. “I have achieved academic accomplishments at UAH that I never thought possible. My father always said, ‘can’t isn’t a word.’ My time at UAH has shown me he was right. No matter the challenge, I learned that if I commit to a goal, there is nothing I cannot do with God’s help.”

As the nation becomes more diverse, Johnson’s academic minor, Spanish will be in high demand in the healthcare profession.

“Spanish was my first love. When I was five, my dad was stationed in El Paso, TX. I constantly heard Spanish when we were in the city and I was determined that one day I would speak the same beautiful words,” she said. “So, when I entered high school, I began taking Spanish classes. My love for the language, the culture, and the people continued to grow. As a result, I decided to pursue a Spanish minor. I am still in love with the language and I hope to use my skills to benefit my Spanish speaking patients in the future.”

As an honors student, Johnson’s achievements include the COS Highest Undergraduate Achievement honor, Dean’s List, and she served as a Science Ambassador, and member of UAH LSAMP.

Her advice for keeping to a rigorous path is to “find your why and keep moving forward with that in mind. Realize that academics are extremely important, but it is not the end goal. Rather, it is a means to an end. That end goal is to use the education you have received to give back to someone else.”

Johnson will enter The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine this fall. She plans to seek a dual MD/MPH degree allowing her to get a Master’s of Public Health as well as a Doctor of Medicine degree.



Dr. Emanuel Waddell
Associate Dean, COS