For TU senior Kiam Preston, it’s all about balancing life as both a peer mentor and a budding microbiologist.
Growing up in Baltimore City, Kiam Preston ’19 always had people trying to tell him who he should be. But at Towson University, he found who he wants to be.
“The experiences I’ve had here at TU helped define me and mold me into who I am,” Preston said. “You are who you make yourself out to be. There are some things you might not be able to change about yourself — because those are integral parts of who you are.”
His lifelong love of science is one of those integral parts. As a child Preston read astronomy books hoping to be an “astroruner,” as he called it. Later he found out the term was pronounced “astronomer."
As a TU biology major, Preston continued to look for new ways to challenge himself in both science and in the classroom.
He found it after a chance encounter with another TU student, who told him about TU’s MB3 major — which stands for Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Bioinformatics. After hearing about the work the other student was doing, he immediately changed his major to get into the MB3 program.
Preston had finally found the academic challenge he’d been looking for.
“I thoroughly enjoy the rigor,” he laughed. “When I was told about MB3, I thought that sounded incredibly hard. I had to get a piece of that. And every single class I’ve enjoyed—and the ones I’ve enjoyed the most—are the hardest ones.”
With a concentration in molecular biology, Preston does a lot of work involving cells: how cells work and how molecules interact with the body. His favorite class so far is biochemistry, mainly because he learned about how the human body and its cells actually work.
He’s also involved with research on campus as part of the Towson University Herpes Lab, where he studies human cytomegalovirus, or the Beta Herpes Virus. It was through his research that Preston decided that his ultimate goal was to work at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Preston got involved with the TU Herpes Lab after taking Biology 201 with Barry Margulies, the faculty member who established the lab. During the lab section of the class, Preston was able to spark a one-on-one conversation with Margulies, who invited him to visit the herpes lab.
Preston met the other researchers in the lab and knew immediately that he wanted to be part of it. Since joining his freshman year, he admits he’s loved every moment. Still, he says balancing research work with homework and trying to have a personal life has been hard.
“Everything hasn’t been given to me—I’ve had to work for it,” Preston said. “It’s ok to struggle. That’s what makes us better.”
TU’s SAGE program was developed specifically for students like Preston. Students Achieve Goals through Education (SAGE) helps to foster academic achievement, personal development and campus-wide involvement in students representing diverse and underserved backgrounds.
Each program participant is able to develop a relationship with a peer mentor and participate in various activities that enhance academic success, campus connections, personal development and career development skills.
“I chose Towson University because of SAGE,” Preston said. “This support system is something I didn’t know that I needed as much as I did. That’s the most astounding part—to have a family-like connection to this group of people.”
Two of those family-like bonds have been with Raft Woodus, director of Student Success Programs, and Tammie King-Kelly, coordinator of Student Success Programs. Preston said their relationship with him has become almost parental.
“I know I can talk to Raft and Tammie about anything,” he added. “They have so much insight and knowledge that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
After spending his freshman year as a SAGE participant, Preston felt he wanted to give back to the program. He now serves as a one of its 70 peer mentors. It’s not uncommon to see a member of the SAGE community call out his name as he strolls across the campus.
As a peer mentor, Preston knows it’s important not only to build relationships with his mentees, but also to serve as a resource for new students.
“I tell them that my personal experience with SAGE has been absolutely outstanding,” Preston said. “We try to help in so many different ways. And if there is something I can’t handle as your mentor, there are 69 other mentors we can talk to, plus our amazing staff.”
Along with his academic work and SAGE mentoring, Preston works as a science tutor on campus. He’s a member of Towson University’s Kronum club, as well as the SAGE Residential Learning Community’s Housing and Residence Life liaison. He’s also involved in TU’s Voices Slam Poetry Team through the Black Student Union.
After naming his clubs, activities and organizations, Preston recalls the mantra he repeats to himself: “No matter where you come from, you can still be who you want to be.”
“The experiences I’ve had at Towson University, I don’t think I could have had anywhere else,” he added.