Scholars Start Bone Marrow Registration Organization on Campus

Two University of Arkansas at Little Rock students are giving back through a campus organization that has resulted in hundreds of new participants in the Be The Match registry, a global bone marrow registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program.

Roko Miocic, a 23-year-old student from Zadar, Croatia, and Adam Ness, a junior systems engineering major, started the organization as their final project for the Donaghey Scholars Honors Program.

The students held their first donor drive in March, followed by a second in September. So far, 570 people have joined the Be The Match registry thanks to these drives.

Miocic, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in computer science on Dec. 17, said he and Ness were inspired to take up the cause after finding out that something as simple as swabbing a cheek could lead to a life-changing procedure.

“Obviously, you support those causes, but why not get proactive about it?” Miocic said. “You literally have someone swab their cheek, and you can possibly save their life. This is a life and death situation, and you can be the decisive factor.”

Bone marrow matches can help save the life of someone with a blood cancer like leukemia, lymphoma, or sickle cell anemia. Once registered, only 1 in approximately 540 people become donors. Most matches are based on age and ancestry. Since patients are most likely to match someone who shares their ancestry, members of underrepresented populations can have difficulty finding matches.

Since the new students who come to UALR could potentially lead to hundreds of new registry participants every year, Miocic and Ness started a Be The Match student chapter to continue the bone marrow registry drives long after they graduate.

Adam Ness and Roko Miocic work at a Be The Match drive to register bone marrow donors.
Adam Ness (left) and Roko Miocic (right) work at a Be The Match drive to register bone marrow donors.

Coming to America

After researching student-exchange programs since the age of 15, Miocic moved to Heber Springs, Arkansas, during his senior year of high school. While it was a tough decision to leave his home and family, Miocic and his parents thought the U.S. offered more opportunities for his education.

“I was always attracted to the concept of the American dream,” Miocic said. “Croatia is territorially smaller than Arkansas. As beautiful as it is, there are not as many opportunities there.”

After high school, Miocic got a basketball scholarship at Mid-South Community College, when his high school basketball coach, Kevin Kyzer, drove him to West Memphis to try out for the team.

While looking for a university to complete his bachelor’s degree, Miocic struggled to find scholarships for international students. Though worried he would not be able to afford a university, his teachers and adviser at Mid-South all pitched in to find a solution.

Miocic’s biology teacher, Erin Gordon, discovered the answer — the UALR Donaghey Scholars Honors Program. This highly competitive, merit-based scholarship covers tuition, fees, housing, financial assistance for a study-abroad program, and new laptop computer. It is also open to international students.

“What brought me to UALR was a little bit of coincidence and a whole lot of luck,” Miocic said. “When I learned I got the scholarship, I was walking to class, and I started screaming and jumping. People driving in their cars probably thought I was crazy.”

While at UALR, Miocic has continued to thrive. He is a 2015 recipient of the Computer Science department’s Outstanding Junior Award and can speak seven languages. He has worked as a resident assistant, housing information technology assistant, and hall director for the Office of Campus Living and a technology intern for Dillard’s, Inc.

He will begin UALR’s business information systems master’s degree program in January.

-Original article by Allen Hicks, UALR Office of Communication

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