Students research origins of autism with Dr. Carolyn Salafia P'16

Elizabeth Andresen ’14, Carly Strelez ’14, Krupa Patel ’15, and Hannah Collins ’16 spent summer 2013 interning with Dr. Carolyn Salafia and colleagues.

Through the Center for Career and Development (CCD), four students -- Elizabeth Andresen ’14, Carly Strelez ’14, Krupa Patel ’15, and Hannah Collins ’16 -- interned with Dr. Carolyn Salafia P’16, a licensed physician and surgeon in New York who is also a parent of a sophomore at Gettysburg College.

Salafia is researching the existence of links between autism and placentas by examining early biomarkers of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the placenta. The hope is that this research could lead to the earlier diagnosis and treatment of autism. 

Most days, the interns worked with computers and scoured through patient charts to retrieve maternal and placental information. They attended presentations involving research in the field, and met with Salafia on a weekly basis to discuss their progress. 

Elizabeth Andresen ’14“Most of my time was spent conducting research; however, I was also able to shadow a developmental pediatrician, a clinical psychologist, a pathologist, and a neonatologist,” Andresen (pictured, left), a music and psychology major, said.

Collins, a biology and psychology major, was able to observe two of Salafia’s doctor colleagues inject a placenta with paint. 

“Watching the injection of paint into a placenta was so fascinating, it was one of my favorite experiences from this internship,” Collins (pictured, right) said. 

Hannah Collins’16The internship provided the students with valuable opportunities to make connections with other researchers and students, and helped them achieve an entirely new perspective on their career goals. 

“While I was only a student working with professionals, Dr. Salafia treated me as though I was one of her colleagues, and really valued my input.  She created the best opportunity possible for all four of us this summer,” Andresen said.   

Krupa Patel ’15“I gained a much better understanding of what I want to do with my future.  When I told Dr. Salafia that I want to go to medical school, she made sure that I was able to get additional exposure to patient floors and doctors who deal with patients daily,” Patel (pictured, left), a biochemistry molecular biology major, said. 

The CCD ensures that internship opportunities are available to all students, no matter their class year.  Collins is a sophomore and was the youngest of Salafia’s interns.  “Internships are a great way to gain experience and figure out what you enjoy doing.  Even if you are a first-year student, getting started early on will only help you down the road,” Collins said.   

Carolyn Salafia P’16The connections one makes through an internship experience are long-lasting and meaningful.  Salafia (pictured, right) came to visit her daughter, Claire Alexander, over Family Weekend in October.  While on campus, Salafia attended the interns' research poster presentations. 

“The students showed maturity, poise, collegiality, and team-work.  This kind of maturity you are not taught and don’t necessarily acquire with age, which demonstrates something strong and sound in these girls,” Salafia said.

All of the students highly recommend taking advantage of the internship opportunities provided by the CCD and the connections with Gettysburg alumni and parents.  “I would most definitely recommend interning with a connection from Gettysburg because these mentors clearly have a love for the college and want to do everything in their power to make the experience a wonderful one,” Patel said. 

“Working with a parent of a current Gettysburg student was definitely advantageous.  She had a good grasp of how the school works, and everything that needed to be done for her interns in terms of Gettysburg requirements,” Collins said.   

Understanding autism


Prof. Matthew Kittelberger’s research in neurobiology looks at how behavior is dynamically driven by circuits of neurons within the brain. He was instrumental in setting up the internships with Dr. Salafia. Kittelberger’s first-year seminar, Autism: Facts, Myths, and Controversies, explored the psychology and biology of autism and the myths that persist in society about the mystifying disorder. The reading list includes:

  • Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
  • Autism: Explaining the Enigma (second edition) by Uta Frith
  • Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure by Paul A. Offit
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism by Roy Richard Grinker

To provide a career exploration experience, contact the Center for Career Development at or 717-337-6616 to learn about the Career Connector Challenge.

Internships offered through the CCD provide Gettysburg College students with the tools to build a powerful network of professional contacts and provide students with a chance to have hands-on experience to complete meaningful work.  In the beginning of November, Salafia completed the analysis of the students’ data about prenatal origins of autism, and their work will possibly help in generating future publications and grant applications. 

“One of my favorite memories from mentoring Gettysburg College students is the fact that so many co-workers asked me not only if the students were coming back, but how soon,” Salafia said.

Career opportunities such as these are made possible by supportive alumni, parents, and friends through the Career Connector Challenge. The Challenge, which began as an intensive five-year campaign in 2010, aimed to create 1,832 new career-related opportunities for students by 2015. The College has exceeded that goal and has added 3,000 new and meaningful opportunities for students. Now, the College embarks on a new challenge: add 2,000 more career-related opportunities by 2015.

Can you host a networking dinner? Provide a summer internship? Allow a student to shadow you or a coworker? Let students talk to you by phone about your own career? Whether you can give an hour or a summer's worth of time, there are students who would like to tap your expertise and experience. Contact the Center for Career Development at or 717.337.6616 to get involved.

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, senior assistant director of communications, 717.337.6803

Article by: Samantha Gagliano '14, communications and marketing intern.

Posted: Mon, 27 Jan 2014

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