Hands-on research experience with cancer cells helped a Gettysburg College student earn a prestigious award and a medical-school internship.
"One of the things that is becoming increasingly important when applying to medical schools is that you've conducted your own research," said Aixa Navia '11, a biochemistry & molecular biology major from Summit, N.J. "The medical field is changing, and becoming more research-based. Doctors are also scientists, so I knew it would be important for me to have that kind of experience."
Navia received a Student Presentation Award for her poster in the area of cell biological sciences at the 2010 Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Charlotte, N.C.
The research Navia presented at ABRCMSwas from a summer 2010 internship with a specialist in the progression of diseases at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. While at UMass in Worcester, Navia worked with her mentor conducting research on colorectal cancer cells.
Navia's internship at UMass may not have been possible without the research experiences she had at Gettysburg College.
"When I applied for the internship at UMass, I was asked to discuss my most influential research experience, so I talked about research I had worked on at the College," explained Navia. "Apparently they found my experiences pretty meaningful, because they picked me for the internship! I later found out that my mentor at UMass chose me specifically because of my previous work with cancer cells."
Navia's interest in cancer research began with a project in Prof. Ralph Sorensen's Cell Biology course, in which she and a partner tested the chemotherapy drug Paclitaxel on breast cancer cells. Throughout the course of the project, Navia learned how to manipulate cultured cells and use equipment in the lab.
The summer at UMass was a valuable window into the world of research for Navia. In addition to being inspired by the researchers that surrounded her, Navia also appreciated that she was given leeway to learn and experience things for herself.
"It was so eye-opening being in the type of environment where researchers were constantly talking about this really impressive work they were doing," noted Navia. "It was neat to hear them say I did this and that today, and it worked, but they also made it clear that experiments often result in failure. That made me realize it's ok to learn and even make mistakes."
At the end of the summer, Navia created a poster about her work and presented it to supervisors in the lab. The experience taught her to use what she had learned to defend her viewpoint, she said.
It was also at the end of the summer at UMass that Navia's mentor told her about ABRCMS and encouraged her to submit her poster to the conference. Navia applied and was one of only a limited number of students accepted, including those in graduate and doctoral programs.
Winning the presentation award at ABRCMS was a bonus for Navia, but the real prize was the experience she gained researching at both at Gettysburg College and UMass. As she readies herself to leave campus, she plans to gain more experience in the medical field before she applies to medical schools.
Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania
Contact: Nikki Rhoads, assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803