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Scholarship support drives three-time WVU graduate to achieve and serve West Virginia


Nearly a decade ago, Sundus Lateef was sitting in her senior-year statistics class at Bridgeport High School when she was unexpectedly summoned to the principal’s office for a phone call. Brian Hoover from West Virginia University was on the line: She had been selected as a WVU Foundation Scholar.

“That is such a core important memory for me,” Lateef said. “I remember being so elated, so happy. … Being able to come here as a Foundation Scholar, I was able to do the research that I was really passionate about on improving human health and nutrition, I was able to go to Washington, D.C., and meet with Senators [Shelley Moore] Capito and [Joe] Manchin to discuss my research and my college goals and advocate for them, and meet professors here who supported me at every stage of the journey and made me a better student, made me more ambitious about what I wanted to achieve, and then also meet like-minded individuals.”

Private scholarship support – first as a Foundation Scholar and later as a medical student – changed Lateef’s life. As an undergraduate, she blossomed from a shy bookworm to an outgoing leader who is active in her community, both on campus and off. As a student at the School of Medicine, she followed in her mother’s footsteps while also blazing new trails for future Mountaineers.

Now, she’s proving that Mountaineers who go first can also go far as she embarks on her residency training in diagnostic radiology. After earning bachelor’s degrees in biology and chemistry from WVU in 2017, Lateef completed her medical degree in May 2022. She will remain at WVU for a transitional year before moving on to the University of California at Los Angeles Medical Center for four years.

“To be able to graduate medical school with that scholarship support, I felt like I could go anywhere I wanted for residency,” Lateef said. “I could go to a program that really fit me and not have to think about financial burden.”

Private scholarship support changed Sundus Lateef’s life, first as a WVU Foundation Scholar and later as an MD student at the School of Medicine.

Private scholarship support changed Sundus Lateef’s life, first as a WVU Foundation Scholar and later as an MD student at the School of Medicine.

Exploring new opportunities

While her family hails from Pakistan, Lateef has always been connected to WVU. She was born at WVU Medicine’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, where her mother, Atiya Lateef, completed her residency in internal medicine. The elder Dr. Lateef works in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

As a teenager, Lateef often traveled to Morgantown for quiz bowl, science bowl and history bowl competitions, and she even got a taste of campus life when she stayed at Honors Hall for the Governor’s Honors Academy. That experience – combined with the stories of other Bridgeport High School students who earned top scholarships – made WVU her first choice for college.

Yet, when Lateef first arrived at WVU, she was shy and hesitant to step outside her comfort zone. Thankfully, her Foundation Scholarship gave her the freedom to get involved with scholarly research, campus activities and community organizations that helped to simultaneously boost her confidence and enrich her undergraduate experience. By her senior year, her long list of accomplishments – published journal articles, research presentations, service as peer tutor and mentor, moderator for West Virginia Quiz Bowl and Science Bowl competitions, and volunteer for Scott’s Run Settlement House and Sundale Nursing Home, among others – earned her entry into the Order of Augusta, WVU’s top student honor.

As Lateef challenged herself to try new things, she signed up for a Latin class. She thought learning the classical language might be useful in medical school. The course introduced her to Dr. Robert Tallaksen, an emeritus professor of diagnostic radiology with a passion for Latin. Lateef enjoyed the class and his style of teaching, which steered her toward his specialty area.

“When I got to know Sundus as a student in my Latin class, I was very impressed with her ability to identify, understand, and apply the patterns and rules of Latin grammar in a way that no other student of mine had ever done,” Tallaksen said. “When she told me that she was interested in medical school, these abilities seemed just exactly what would be required both for success in school and for an outstanding success in a medical career.”

Going first

With generous scholarship support to alleviate the financial burden many students face in medical school, Lateef continued to push herself at the School of Medicine. The research she enjoyed as an undergraduate student was limited amid the demands of medical school. At the urging of another mentor, Dr. Sally Hodder, director of the West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute headquartered at WVU, Lateef sought opportunities to get involved with research at a national level.

She applied for the competitive National Institutes of Health Medical Research Scholars Program and became the first student selected from West Virginia. Lateef was among 50 students from across the country who came together at the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland, for one year as they participated in training and research activities under the guidance of an NIH advisor and research mentor.

“Being the first National Institutes of Health Medical Research Scholars Program participant is extremely important for me, because it enhanced my medical school experience,” Lateef said, adding that she hopes to inspire others at WVU to apply. “I think it really does open doors for you to meet people and bring ideas back to our state and enhance the educational experience for you and your future patients, as well, because you’re able to communicate and do research at a really high level.”

Lateef worked in a laboratory focused on heart disease, studying how inflammation contributes to heart disease and how addressing inflammation can reduce risk for heart attack. The experience was invigorating, and it strengthened her resolve to pursue academic medicine as a physician-scientist. It also reinforced her interest in diagnostic radiology, as her research involved imaging the heart.

“What I ultimately hope to accomplish as a diagnostic radiologist is to be a great teacher and a great provider,” Lateef said. “If I can leave patients a little less scared or confused about what’s going on in terms of the illness or condition they’re going through, if I can help a medical student who’s really struggling with anatomy to understand how to do better on their exams, then I will have made a difference.”

Sundus Lateef (from left) poses with mother Atiya, sister Soofia and father Khalid Lateef at WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center.

Sundus Lateef (from left) poses with mother Atiya, sister Soofia and father Khalid Lateef at WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center.

Going far

Lateef will join her younger sister, Soofia Lateef, in California. Soofia Lateef, a Bucklew Scholar and 2019 Outstanding Senior who earned bachelor’s degrees in chemical engineering and philosophy at WVU, is pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the University of California, Riverside. Both Sundus and Soofia hope to return to their alma mater to teach.

“I’m very excited to go to UCLA for my diagnostic radiology residency because of the potential for me to meet amazing people, to do cutting-edge research, and to be in a new environment and see new ideas,” Sundus Lateef said. “I’m hoping to bring that back and ultimately serve the state and work here. All of that is possible because I feel like a member of the community here, and that whenever I work here in this community, volunteer in this community, it makes a difference.”

Lateef credits WVU supporters for making her education and other accomplishments possible. She is eager to follow their example by eventually giving back to her home state and WVU, both personally and professionally.

“Every time I can meet donors in person, I want to say thank you,” Lateef said. “It’s because of them that I have been able to achieve all of the things that I have, and it’s because of them that I wanted to stay in West Virginia – not just for my college education, but also for medical school. … Being a donor has a ripple effect, and it creates students who are really excited about pursuing an education at West Virginia University and then contributing to the mission of the University as well.”

Scholarship gifts to support WVU students are made through the WVU Foundation, the nonprofit organization that receives and administers private donations on behalf of the University. Interested donors can make a gift at give.wvu.edu.

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