For every Gettysburg College student, the journey from first-year Orientation to Commencement is a highly distinctive, personal exploration of academic inquiry. For Lan Nguyen ’23, a biochemistry and molecular biology from Vietnam, Gettysburg’s signature undergraduate education experience allowed her to pursue diverse academic passions in the liberal arts and sciences. The knowledge, enduring skills, and mentorship she received at Gettysburg prepared her to begin graduate studies in biomedical science, with a concentration in immunology and microbiology, at the University of Florida College of Medicine last fall.
Gettysburg’s small class sizes and ability to engage in hands-on, experiential learning in the laboratory allowed Lan to immerse herself in her coursework. She completed an undergraduate student-faculty research experience with Biology Prof. Jennifer Powell, investigating the roles of FSHR-1 and SKN-1 in regulating the oxidative stress response in Caenorhabditis elegans, a nematode worm, through fluorescence microscopy.
Lan spent three years of research and took two research courses with Powell, opportunities that allowed her to hone her communication and problem-solving skills. These research experiences at Gettysburg also helped her attain a summer 2022 undergraduate research internship at Penn State College of Medicine.
Lan credits the invaluable research and mentorship opportunities she received at Gettysburg for preparing her to apply to graduate school and begin her graduate studies. “I was exposed to research very early and gained hands-on research experience,” she said. “Dr. Powell also gave me a lot of good advice about developing my statement of purpose and wrote letters of recommendation.”
“At Gettysburg, we don’t just teach our students about science. We mentor them to become scientists. Many classes such as genetics, molecular genetics, and the interdisciplinary X-Labs give students like Lan the opportunity to participate in authentic, original research projects as part of their coursework,” said Powell. “Lan’s research project addressed a fundamental open question in the field of innate immunity—how the immune system can detect a bacterial infection. To determine how two important genes impact each other’s functions, Lan mastered multiple different experimental techniques.”
Powell added that even the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t disrupt Nguyen’s research pursuits. “With dedication, enthusiasm, and a phenomenal work ethic, she made important discoveries that help us better understand how the immune system detects and fights infection,” she said.
Seeking balance in her academic coursework while appealing to her desire of advancing her understanding of China and its people, Lan discovered Gettysburg’s East Asian Studies Department, which offered several Chinese language and culture courses. One of the most intriguing classes she took, taught by East Asian Studies Prof. Jing Li, examined Chinese folktales and fairy tales through narrative analysis and cultural criticism. Through her Chinese literature and language classes, Lan developed her intercultural fluency and communication skills and gained a rich perspective and appreciation for diversity and dialogue with people across cultures.
“Lan took several courses with us, rapidly advancing her Chinese proficiency. During a visit to my office, she fluently communicated in Chinese about her graduate school application process,” East Asian Studies Chair Junjie Luo said. “My colleagues and I have been dedicated to working with students from diverse disciplines, like Lan, who are interested in Japanese and Chinese languages and cultures.”
Lan explained that pursuing knowledge in diverse fields outside of science broadened her worldview and introduced her to different cultures. This broad education in the liberal arts and sciences at Gettysburg instilled in her a passion for academic inquiry, which she leans into now during the first year of her biomedical science graduate program.
“My East Asian studies courses here at Gettysburg gave me the opportunity to become a well-rounded person,” Lan said.
Reflecting on Gettysburg’s consequential education that has shaped her knowledge of the liberal arts and sciences, Lan credits Gettysburg’s community of support from faculty members who helped her prepare for graduate education. She hopes to use her time in graduate school to explore potential future career paths. Lan adds that she’s grateful to Gettysburg for providing her with the support that has allowed her to feel confident in pursuing knowledge through the research experience she gained at Gettysburg. She also seeks to continue to build enduring skills during her first year at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
“I realize that if I didn’t have the opportunity to have direct communication and interaction with my research advisors, I don’t think I would have the outcomes I have now,” she said. “Gettysburg provides you a nice environment for learning and prepares you well for the future.”
By Michael Vyskocil
Photos provided by Lan Nguyen ’23