Finish Line

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Drawn to Dominican by the opportunity to engage in bioscience research while competing on its NCAA Division II cross country team, graduate students Buay Deng ’19 and Jorden Tahquechi ’19 are on the right career path.

Jorden, who graduated Summa Cum Laude last May, is working in the drug discovery department at BioMarin Pharmaceutical Inc., a world leader in developing and commercializing innovative biopharmaceuticals for rare diseases by genetic causes.

Buay, who earned his Bachelor of Science degree in three years, is working at the Buck Institute, an international biomedical research institution devoted solely to research on aging.

“This is the perfect opportunity to learn and see myself grow,” says Buay, who is pursuing his Master of Science degree in Biological Sciences. “Most people dream of going to the Buck Institute. That’s where people want to end up, but this is where I’m starting.”

It’s been a rewarding experience for Buay, who hails from Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla.. Though accepted at Hofstra University, he chose to travel thousands of miles further from home to attend Dominican because he liked the challenge.

“I took a 100 percent chance on this place,” says Buay, who enrolled at Dominican sight unseen.

The “gamble” paid huge dividends. Buay was recruited by Penguins’ cross country coach Teressa DiPerna, who noted that a very high percentage of Dominican science students who apply for medical school are accepted.

When Buay finally set foot on campus for the first time as a freshman, he was already comfortable with his surroundings even before he witnessed the specter of Marin County hills and mountains around Dominican.

Buay immediately became a star on the cross country team and a standout in the classroom in the School of Health and Natural Sciences. Inspired by classes and research with Dr. Meredith Protas, Dr. Tyler Johnson, Dr. Kiowa Bowers, and Dr. Diara Spain, Buay decided to pursue a doctorate, possibly in immunology. When he completed his undergraduate work, Buay was guided into the master’s program and encouraged by Dr. Protas and Dr. Bowers in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics to apply for an internship with the Buck Institute. He is now doing research on cellular senescence inside the brain and its correlation to neurodegenerative disorders, yet he felt prepared for it from his training at Dominican.

“Getting that bench experience that is so easily translatable into what I want to do is invaluable,” Buay says.

In the meantime, Buay -- who on November 9 at the NCAA West Region Cross Country Championships in Montana broke the school's 10K record held by  Justin Valdez ’15 -- completed his final year of intercollegiate athletic eligibility. He successfully balanced his morning practices, work at the Buck Institute, and night classes.

“It’s a solid 14-hour day,” says Buay, who on October 26 competed with his fellow Penguins in the PacWest Championships in Fullerton. “You have to be super willing to tough it out and endure.”

Student-athletes such as Jorden and Buay have helped the Penguins win the PacWest Academic Achievement Award nine times in the 10 years since Dominican joined the conference. In fact, Jorden called it “a blessing” to be able to work alongside Buay and other teammates who major in the sciences.

“You share everything together: your time, your food, your ups, and your downs. Being supportive of one another is often the best thing you can do,” Jorden says. “The complexity of the problems we tackled in quantum mechanics were unlike anything else we ever experienced. Without teamwork, it would’ve been very difficult to accomplish on our own.”

Lasting relationships with both peers and faculty were fostered in the learning environment of small class sizes that helped attract him to Dominican from Branciforte Small Schools in Santa Cruz.

“I think that the skills I learn, and those that I perfect while working at BioMarin will serve me incredibly well in my future career,” Jorden says. “I’m now working on some pretty impressive things that would of really piqued my interest if you told me I would be working on when I first enrolled at Dominican.”

Currently Jorden is analyzing and evaluating cultured tissues with different types of chromatography, most notably liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry.

“My goals are to complete this master’s program to the best of my ability, enjoy the relationships I’ve made, and apply to medical school,” Jorden says. “Dominican has given me the tools to succeed at a company like BioMarin and acted as a safe ground to foster those relationships. It’s given me the mentors to affirm my goals in my heart.”

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