Emmanuel McNeely, the 2021 Young Alumni Award winner within the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, conducts spine surgery research on a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. Johns Hopkins lays claim to 29 Nobel laureates and the title “America’s first research university.” In a telephone interview from that prestigious post, McNeely recalled how he got his start in research as a student at Palm Beach Atlantic.
“I remember waking up early, going to the Gregory School of Pharmacy, learning how to clean a fume hood,” said McNeely. He was studying medicinal and biological chemistry, not pharmacy, but Dr. Adwoa Nornoo, associate professor of pharmaceutical sciences, welcomed him into her cancer research.
“She taught me how to conduct a clean research project,” said McNeely. “Dr. Nornoo was excellent in all that she did.”
The project involved treating cancer cells with chemotherapy and also with a natural product, moringa leaf extract. This became McNeely’s senior research project, fueling his interest in research and likely helping him get into Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine after he graduated from Palm Beach Atlantic in 2012.
“PBA was a launching pad,” McNeely said. “I want to give that sense of how big of a blessing PBA has been. While it was so good spiritually, emotionally and growing me up to be a man of God, it also was great professionally.”
He earned his Master of Health Administration and Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences at FAU, where he is on track to earn his doctorate in medicine in 2023. His goal is to become an orthopedic surgeon, but he has taken time away from his medical school courses, after landing the research fellowship at Johns Hopkins. “I thought it would be a good opportunity to go there and learn from the best,” he said.
Aiming for the sub-specialty of orthopedic surgery, “the competition is very, very high,” he said, “so applicants need to have a strong research presence and research experience. Plus, I enjoy research, and it’s very important for surgeons to review the latest research.
“Every day there is a new device being created; every day there are new procedures,” he said. “To be a competent surgeon, it’s important to always be on top of the research, and there’s no better way to do that than to be involved in research yourself.”
Now in his second year of research at Johns Hopkins, McNeely said, “it’s been a great growth opportunity.” Meanwhile, he’s working to expand the medical education opportunities for others, a long-term mission with roots in his time at PBA.
He and his wife, Sa’Rah McNeely, founded “The Dr. McNeely Dream (M.D.) Project,” which has reached thousands of students through workshops and the workbook they co-authored. With a goal to increase the number of underrepresented minorities successfully pursuing medicine, the McNeelys share their stories of overcoming challenges in their medical pursuits, and they provide students with support, mentorship and resources to become physicians.
“As a Black male medical student, I understand the scarcity of Black males going into medicine, and I understand that there is a very leaky pipeline into medicine,” McNeely said. “I look forward to a future where more minorities exist in the medical field so that we can better address health disparities across all fields of medicine.”
His efforts of outreach and encouragement earned McNeely the Young Alumni Award from the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). “Through both his medical studies and his deep commitment to mentoring the next generation even as he continues in his pursuit to become an outstanding physician, Emmanuel McNeely embodies the whole-person love and care that Jesus himself models for us in scripture,” said CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra. “The pandemic has highlighted just how important it is for us to have medical professionals like Emmanuel who are committed both to serving and training up the next generation of leaders within underrepresented communities. Emmanuel embodies the ultimate goal of Christian higher education: to help students integrate fully their faithful commitment to Jesus into their profession and to make a difference in the world.”
The CCCU is an association of more than 180 Christian institutions around the world. From nominations by those member schools, each year the organization presents the Young Alumni Award to a graduate “who has exhibited uncommon leadership or achieved notable success in a way that reflects Christian higher education."
“We’re proud of graduates like Emmanuel, who shine with God’s love and with excellence in their field of study,” said Palm Beach Atlantic University President Dr. Debra A. Schwinn. “Emmanuel’s heart for serving others, combined with his excellent training, will make him a fine physician.”
As McNeely pursues his dream to become a surgeon, you can be sure the dream includes lifelong mentoring: reaching out a hand to lift others up. “That’s my heart,” he said. “I love to duplicate everything that the Lord has taught me. I know He blesses us to be a blessing.”