What sparked your interest in Saint Michael’s and made you want to attend?
A lot of the schools that I applied to were big universities, and the classes were really big. I wanted to go to an undergraduate school with more of a small, close-knit community. I knew that I would eventually go to grad school, and that would be at a big university, so I would have that experience afterwards. I came in as a Biology major, and the science department was well known at St. Mike’s, so I came for a tour. It was rainy that day, but I still liked it. I think that I kind of just ended up here, and as the years progressed each year I’ve made greater and greater memories.
A lot of other schools that were like this had really bad communities outside of campus, or they were in kind of a dangerous area. But here, there’s Burlington, and the mountains; there’re so many activities that you can do. I live so close to Boston and I’ve always spent my summers there; I was looking for a different experience.
What kinds of activities or experiences have you been able to have here that you feel have been particularly influential to your personal growth?
How close the professors are to the students is one of the main reasons I like this school. I’m a rising senior, so it’s a little upsetting that I’ll have to leave all these professors I’ve had such great experiences with. I don’t think I’ve ever had a professor say that they couldn’t help me, even if they were busy or it wasn’t office hours. As the years progressed, I’ve gotten to know more and more people. Whether it’s the seniors who just left or the incoming freshmen, I think that every person you meet tells a unique story about themselves, and you meet a lot of different people here.
Who has been the most influential to your college experience, and how?
The two professors that have really helped me out, whether with choosing classes or figuring out what I want to do after I graduate, are Professor Malcolm Lippert and Professor Bret Findley. Professor John O’Meara, who’s in the physics department, is one of the favorite professors I’ve had so far. I think that a lot of people should take his class, not because it’s physics, but because of the type of person he is. He pushes you to do your best. If I went in to ask a question, he wouldn’t let me leave until I understood the concept or the question that I came in to ask. I’m not a fan of physics, but he was my favorite professor and I liked physics a lot more after I came out of his class.
Why did you want to do summer research, and what are you researching?
The research that Joanna Ellis-Monaghan and Greta Pangborn do every summer is bioinformatics. I chose to do this research because I’m thinking about pursuing bioinformatics as a graduate student, and I wanted to experience that firsthand before I committed to it. I took Calculus III with Jo, and she sent out an email about summer research. I also had a class with Greta, so I lucked out, because I had both those classes in the same semester when I was applying.
It’s called DNA origami. There’s a cancer killing virus, and we’re trying to find a cage to encapsulate the virus, so when it goes into the human body it can be released at the target site and kill the cancer cells. Mostly I was doing the programming. The DNA origami consists of one long DNA strand, and with the program we were writing, we want to find that one long DNA strand given some kind of graph. We were split up into groups of two, so my friend and I were working on code left from last summer. There’s a graph, and the way the program was working you had to input the graphs. If it was a two by two matrix, that was fine, but if someone wanted to input 25 vertices, it would be difficult to make that 25 by 25 matrix, so we improved the program to generate that matrix by itself. In the end the output is an Eulerian cycle, so it starts and begins at the same place. Around the graph, there are all these outputs, and we want to figure out the path it’s taking, whether it’s going to be a loop or a torus knot. It’s an ongoing project, so there’s definitely going to be a couple more years of it. We wrote a paper, and I’m not sure if it’s going to be published, but we’re going to try. The main reason for writing the paper is so the kids who come in next year know the background information and how the program works, and they’re not starting by trying to figure everything out. We are going to do a poster presentation in the fall, too.
What advice would you give to future students?
Some people get caught up in the college life and some people get caught up in the books, and the most difficult thing is time management. If you can manage your time and find a balance between the college lifestyle and the academics, I think your college experience will be the best in the end. Also, this is such a close-knit community; when you’re a rising senior you don’t want to regret the fact that you don’t know a lot of the professors or a lot of the students. I think that’s an opportunity they should take advantage of, going out and meeting a lot of people and introducing themselves, because you never know who you could connect with or who could become your best friend.
Make the most of your time here. Those four years really do fly by, and it feels like I just stepped on campus and was a freshman yesterday.
What do you feel is the value of a Saint Michael’s education?
I know that going to a big school, the exams aren’t really so you can learn, it’s more to take the class and get a grade at the end. Going to St. Mike’s I realized that this is a learning experience— the classes you’re taking, you do learn from them. Even if the grade you get in the end doesn’t represent your knowledge, you come out having so much information. It blows my mind that I know so much and that I still understand everything that I’ve experienced and learned throughout the classes. It helped me grow maturity-wise; I definitely have more confidence than I did as an incoming freshman. I think one of the problems that I’ll have coming out of here is seeing people and saying hi to them, because if someone looks at me I have the tendency to smile and say hi. I was with my dad, and he was like, “What are you doing? Why are you saying hi to people you don’t know?” When I go back home, I’ll have to adjust to the fact that I can’t say hi to every stranger that just happens to make eye contact with me. I think that’s one of the things I’ll miss the most, is being so open and friendly.
What attracted you to biochemistry?
My grandfather passed away from cancer right before I started high school, and I think that’s what really sparked my interest in biology, because I wanted to know how this small virus could take so much, and you really didn’t have control over what it did if you didn’t catch it early on. I took AP Biology, and I’ve always been good at math, so that was the spark that I needed. When I came here I realized I really like chemistry, not only because I am good at it, but I actually understand it a lot more than I do biology. I switched to a Biochemistry major, because it combined the human body and how chemicals react in it. The reason I’m a computer science minor is because my father is in health and informatics systems, and he pushed me to take a computer science class. I’m having trouble now because I’m interested in computer science but I’m also interested in public health. I wish I could do a double master’s program. I know that would be really difficult and hard, but we’ll see.