As new variants of COVID-19 emerged around the globe, Nikita Mishra focused her research on using computer modeling to study mutations of the virus to aid in vaccine and drug development.
The 17-year-old—one of the youngest graduates in Cal State LA’s Class of 2022—aimed to examine and describe how different strains of COVID-19 bind to receptors in the human body without the need for laborious laboratory experiments.
Mishra, a Los Angeles resident, will graduate summa cum laude on May 24 with a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the College of Natural and Social Sciences. In the fall, she will pursue a master’s degree in bioengineering at Stanford University and hopes to continue results-driven research.
Mishra aspires to become a doctor and to contribute to the future of health care through continued medical research and political advocacy. The science of medicine and the human aspect of the field drew her to the career path.
“Patients’ lives change when they meet their doctors, and I enjoyed observing physicians I interacted with who integrated science with what it means to be human,” Mishra says.
Mishra was 14 years old when she enrolled at Cal State LA through the Early Entrance Program. The program, which has accepted highly gifted students as young as 11 years old, is administered by the university’s Honors College.
Throughout her time at Cal State LA, Mishra says the university’s faculty played a critical part in her academic journey.
“I have had incredible opportunities to work with faculty on various projects related to the health field, and these experiences helped me really fall in love with the power and beauty of science,” Mishra says.
Mishra worked under the guidance of faculty mentor Negin Forouzesh on her COVID-19 research, which was also the subject of her senior thesis for the Honors College.
“Nikita has proven to be a creative and innovative thinker,” says Forouzesh, an assistant professor of computer science in the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology. “She is a motivated and industrious student with a kind personality who knows how to communicate well, consistently demonstrates independence and initiative and puts care into her responsibilities and commitments.”
Mishra received an outstanding oral presentation award for her presentation, “Computational characterizations of binding affinity in SARS-CoV-2 variants to the human ACE2 receptor,” at Cal State LA’s annual Student Symposium on Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities. She also won first place for her research in the engineering and computer science category at the 36th Annual CSU Student Research Competition in April.
Forouzesh and Mishra co-authored a paper, “An Effective MM/GBSA Protocol for Absolute Binding Energy Calculations: A Case Study on SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein and the Human ACE2 Receptor,” which was published in April 2021 in Molecules, an international, peer-reviewed journal. Mishra was also invited by the American Chemical Society to give an oral technical presentation at the organization’s Spring 2021 National Meeting, A Call to Action: The Many Roles of Computational Chemistry in Addressing COVID-19.
During her time at Cal State LA, Mishra also worked as a research assistant in the Metal Organic Framework Lab with Chemistry Professor Yangyang Liu, studying the construction of physiological defense systems against infectious disease.
Outside the classroom and the research lab, Mishra sought out ways to help educate and support her fellow students. She served as a certified peer health educator with the Student Health Advisory Committee, as a student mentor for the Honors Academy in the Early Entrance Program, and as president and treasurer for the I-AM-PRE-MED Club.
A Dean’s List student, Mishra minored in bioinformatics and computational biology. She received the Anthony J. Andreoli Endowed Scholarship, a scholarship from the Dermody Fund, the Edison Scholarship, the Elliott Barton Scholarship and the John B. Willis Scholarship.
Mishra attributes much of her achievements to the support of the university and recommends prospective students apply to Cal State LA.
“Students should strongly consider attending Cal State LA because they will find that they are part of a community that supports them and wants them to succeed,” Mishra says. “The Cal State LA curriculum allowed me to take courses that helped me gain an understanding of the way society and the communities around me are built alongside a rigorous science curriculum.”
With a dedication to giving back, Mishra has been a student coordinator for the Sahaay Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to providing enriching education to children from low-income families.
Mishra also founded a nonprofit organization called, Your World, Our Future: Girls in STEM, which aims to help girls realize their full capabilities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. As she continues her studies in graduate school and forges a career in medicine, Mishra hopes to continue to advocate for representation in STEM.
“Dealing with the fierce inequalities that resonate in the STEM communities taught me to value myself and everyone around me, as it is the diversity of voices that enriches scientific spaces,” she says.
Photo: Nikita Mishra celebrating during the College of Natural and Social Science commencement ceremony at Cal State LA. (Credit: Robert Huskey/Cal State LA)
# # #
California State University, Los Angeles is the premier comprehensive public university in the heart of Los Angeles. Cal State LA is ranked number one in the United States for the upward mobility of its students. Cal State LA is dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good, offering nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education, and the humanities. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 26,000 students and has more than 250,000 distinguished alumni.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex and the TV, Film and Media Center. For more information, visit www.CalStateLA.edu.