Awards | Health News

Four students at East Carolina University’s Brody School of Medicine have been awarded the university’s most prestigious medical scholarship.

David Murray, Valentine Okafor, Arvind Mallikarjunan and Vaishnavi Siripurapu — all North Carolina residents — have been chosen for the Class of 2026 Brody Scholar and Brody Fellow award, valued at approximately $118,000.

Each student will receive four years of medical school tuition, living expenses and the opportunity to design a summer enrichment program that can include travel abroad. The award will also support community service projects the students may undertake while in medical school.

Since the program began in 1983, 150 students have received scholarships. About 76% of Brody Scholars remain in North Carolina to practice, and the majority of those stay in eastern North Carolina.

“The Brody Scholarship is among the most distinguished in U.S. medical schools,” said Dr. Herb Garrison, interim president of ECU’s Medical & Health Sciences Foundation. “We are forever grateful to the Brody family for establishing and continuing to support the Brody Scholars program and appreciate the Brody Scholars who demonstrate constantly why they’re deserving of this tremendous support.”

David Murray

Murray, from Fayetteville, graduated from East Carolina University and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in molecular and cellular biology. He is also a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.

He received ECU’s 2019 Undergraduate Research and Creativity Award for his work on developing new ways to make unique unnatural amino acids and putting them into proteins. He also presented his findings at the State of North Carolina Undergraduate Research and Creativity Symposium held at Duke University. Murray decided to pursue medicine after his cousin was hospitalized for an asthma attack.

“After missing weeks of school, my cousin lost his interest and drive to accomplish his dream of becoming a doctor,” Murray said. “I can’t help but believe that if he had received early care and management for his asthma, like I had, he would have never given up on his dream.”

Murray said he’s passionate about community health and family medicine and hopes to be a primary care physician that practices medicine in underserved, low socioeconomic communities.

“I hope to one day open many primary care clinics in communities that need them most,” he said. “In doing so, I believe we can achieve health equity and mitigate health disparities.”

He is the son of Thomas Rodney Murray and Kareema Cavallo of Canton.

Murray also said he believes being a Brody Scholar goes beyond him as an individual.

“In communities like mine, money is a limiting factor and is a reason to give up,” he said. “This scholarship shows that no matter your socioeconomic status or how much money your parents make or what community you come from, if you can persevere and continue to pursue your dream, you will get help.”

Valentine Okafor

Okafor is this year’s Brody Fellow, who hopes to use the opportunity to make an impact on global health.

Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, Okafor graduated from ECU in 2016 with a bachelor’s in biochemistry and a minor in chemistry. He is the son of Leonard and Chigozie Okafor.

In 2015, Okafor decided to study abroad to explore international health systems and to pursue solutions to health challenges around the world.

“I decided to attend this program after realizing the British National Health Services (NHS) was considered one of the best in the world,” he said. “During this program, I visited the World Health Organization headquarters and spoke with members of Parliament on issues regarding public health, the health care policies in the U.K. and ways in which health care systems in developing countries such as Nigeria can be improved.”

That same year, Okafor served as an ECU Global Ambassador; he was selected shortly after his study abroad experience, among other campus activities.

After graduation, Okafor worked full time as a scientist at Mayne Pharma and Thermofisher Scientific, where he performed various chemistry tests in the lab on life-saving drugs and medications, including vaccines to ensure safety and quality before they get the patients that need them the most.

While rewarding, another profession was his calling.

“I realized I wanted to go into medicine at the age of 9 when I first hand experienced and became a victim of the flaws of the health care system in my birth country, Nigeria,” Okafor said. “I was on the verge of losing my right leg, but ultimately was saved by the immense impact of the excellent physicians and their team in the U.K, I was inspired to dedicating my life’s efforts towards providing top quality health care toward people in underserved communities.”

Okafor has high aspirations for his Brody experience.

“During medical school, I hope to develop the professionalism, cultural perspective and humility needed to be an excellent physician through the opportunities provided by Brody School of Medicine,” he said. “To me, being a Brody Fellow is a huge privilege,” he said. “It gives me the freedom to pursue my passions and interests without the massive financial constraint and opens doors and opportunities for me that I would have not had the opportunity to explore.”

Arvind Mallikarjunan

Mallikarjunan wants to explore the parallels between health care and technology.

“I have a deep interest in building technologies to support the care of people living with a variety of diseases, and want to further my usage of technology to better administer care to patients in remote areas,” he said. “I also have interest in machine learning and AI (artificial intelligence) as a tool for predicting the health outcomes of patients.”

Mallikarjunan, from Durham, earned a bachelor’s degree in music and exercise/sport science from UNC-Chapel Hill and a master’s degree in physiology from N.C. State. He had his sights set on medical school even as he performed research at UNC’s Strength and Conditioning Laboratory and the Carolina Affective Science Laboratory. He was also a clinical research specialist for Duke University Health System’s Division of Hematology Sickle Cell Comprehensive Care Unit.

Addressing health problems like sickle cell disease motivates Mallikarjunan to take advantage of opportunities for research and volunteerism.

“While I always knew that I wanted to be in health care, I really solidified the reasoning behind becoming a physician during my time as a research specialist at Duke University,” he said. “Working with people living with sickle cell disease was an eye-opening and truly invigorating opportunity. I realized that there were so many areas in medicine that needed more support, and I felt the best way I could do that was by becoming a physician.”

Mallikarjunan is also an accomplished musician and volunteers to build bridges of access to technology for at-risk community schools across the state. He also founded Nanbar Health, a software suite built to communicate the disease experience of patients to their providers.

He is the son of Chitra Subramaniam.

Mallikarjunan hopes to channel his Brody Scholar experience into caring for the community.

“Being a Brody Scholar means so much to me; it truly is difficult to put into words,” he said. “It’s an amazing opportunity to serve our community without thinking about the debt that greatly affects so many physicians’ lives. It’s an amazing opportunity and one that I will never forget, and I am so thankful to ECU and the Brody family for this gift.”

Vaishnavi Siripurapu

Siripurapu applies a global perspective to her hopes for a future career.

“Throughout medical school, I hope to learn not just about medicine but about communities, cultures and social and systemic forces in order to become a skilled physician to meet the needs of my community,” the Mooresville native said. “I also hope to grow and be exposed to numerous new perspectives that will challenge my own worldview and ultimately help me develop further as both a person and a physician.”

Siripurapu earned bachelor’s degrees in biology and women’s and gender studies from UNC-Chapel Hill earlier this year. She attended the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics. Her journey to Brody afforded her the view of the world as a village.

“I am an immigrant from a very rural area of south India. I actually grew up without running water, wifi or stable electricity,” Siripurapu said. “Ever since I was young, I knew that I wanted to help the people around me as I grew up in a very community-based setting in a rural village.

“When I came to America, I lived exclusively in the American south and was exposed to community care and values of unity throughout my childhood and formative years. What pushed me to medicine was the idea of tangibly making a marked and meaningful difference in the life of another person within my community.”

Siripurapu, the daughter of Sreedevi and Narasimha Siripurapu, hopes to pursue a career in women’s health or a similar field. In the meantime, she wants to take full advantage of the Brody Scholar opportunity.

“For me, being a Brody scholar means that I have the freedom to focus my efforts entirely on the underserved communities that made me who I am today,” she said. “I hope to grow and develop alongside my cohort throughout our four years of medical school and give back to the people of North Carolina.”