Faculty Support, Research Enhance Dominican Experience

The research skills and scientific concepts Katherine Reyes ’20 mastered in Dominican’s Department of Natural Sciences helped her land a competitive summer internship at the University of Chicago. Now Katherine is ready to pursue a career that will combine science and healthcare in order to make a positive impact on humanity.

“The majority of my family lives in Guatemala and hearing about their struggles with access to humane healthcare, medical treatments, and resources fuels my desire to use my future position as a researcher to combat this,” says Katherine who will be applying to cell, developmental, and regeneration biology Ph.D. programs this fall.

“I think it is important to make advances in science and healthcare accessible to everyone while actively working towards eradicating the socioeconomic rift between developed and developing countries. This, in turn, can lessen the disparity of quality of life currently seen amongst these extremes.”

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Katherine, a graduate of Case Grande High School in Petaluma, transferred to Dominican from Santa Rosa Junior College. She recalls being nervous her first day in Dr. Randall Hall’s physical chemistry class. P chem, she had heard, was a notoriously difficult course.

Those fears disappeared quickly.

“Dr. Hall managed to make the class fun and engaging, and he refused to move on to a new topic until he made sure that everyone in the class understood the current topic and was following along,” Katherine says. “I learned a lot about hard work in that class and how much I was capable of as I struggled through the homework.”

Katherine’s hard work paid off as concepts started to click and her confidence grew. She recalls feeling a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

“Some of my fondest memories at Dominican are those spent in my lab classes, collaborating with my classmates to apply the theory learned in lecture in a hands-on manner,” she says. “It is in these moments, being emboldened by my professors’ praise for my technique and aptitude for laboratory work, that I identified my desire to dedicate my life to basic research.”

Dr. Hall soon became a mentor to Katherine, who was awarded The Lillian L.Y. Wang Yin Scholarship in Chemistry during her senior year. Katherine joined Dr. Hall’s computational chemistry lab and worked on a project ultimately focused on designing dyes for malignant pancreatic cancer tumors to improve surgical resection margins of those tumors. The work utilized a supercomputer for many calculations and simulations, and Katherine learned how to use the Linux operating system, along with some other pertinent computer programs.

It was Hall who suggested that Katherine apply to summer Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs, offering to write a letter of recommendation for all her applications. Katherine was accepted into her top-choice program in the University of Chicago’s Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology.

“I was one of nine selected participants out of hundreds of applicants from across the country,” she says. “I spent the summer of 2019 studying cell polarity in the C. elegans (a nematode worm) zygote, where I was able to apply many of the techniques I had learned during my first two semesters at Dominican.”

Dr. Mary Sevigny is another professor in the School of Health and Natural Sciences whose teaching style Katherine appreciated in the Advanced Microbiology course.

 “I loved Dr. Sevigny’s `talk and chalk’ teaching style, where she wrote on the white board as she lectured, utilizing color coordination and hand-drawn diagram. As a primarily visual learner myself, it really helped me learn the material.”

Katherine also absorbed her professor’s passion for microbiology, gaining key skills in the lab component of the class that she later used during her internship at the University of Chicago.

“Both Dr. Sevigny and Dr. Hall exemplified what I found to be true of all of my professors at Dominican: a desire to help every student in their classes succeed and a willingness to go out of their way to make that happen.”

Outside the science program, Katherine also took on challenges and ran with them. An English service-learning course led by Dr. Matthew E. Davis helped advance her writing skills.

“The semester-long essay we worked on for that class is probably the piece of writing that I was most invested in and that I enjoyed writing the most during my entire undergrad career,” she recalls.

Katherine’s service was to work with students at San Rafael High School. The prompt was to write about something that she was passionate about and to connect that interest to her experiences with the service-learning partners.

Katherine’s paper, “Rhythm, Resonance, and Beauty: Cellular Intricacies and Positive Identity,” explored her SRHS student’s inherent beauty as human beings through the lens of cell biology.

“I wrote about how learning about cells taught me about intrapersonal interconnectedness, helping anchor me to the world around me and allowing me to begin appreciating the beauty that exists there.”

The exercise allowed Katherine to explore a lot of concepts she had covered in class while allowing for some great introspection. “I was able to produce a piece of writing that focused on something that was important to me-- something which I previously hadn't really been given the chance to do.”

Katherine is currently seeking a position as a lab technician in preparation for graduate school. She feels well prepared.

“Dominican provided me with a strong academic background and also allowed me to develop both interpersonal and technical skills necessary for graduate school -- from public speaking to manual dexterity skills,” she says. “Dominican’s curriculum and the professors I had there acted as catalysts for outside experiences that I can now place on my resume and will benefit me in the admissions process.”

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