Sister To Sister

When selecting a college, sisters Elina ’19 and Sevil ’20 Chelebieva were determined to stay close to home – and to each other. During the summer of 2018, however, they were worlds apart thanks to some of the many opportunities they have received at Dominican.

Elina, who doubled majored in Business Administration in the Barowsky School of Business and Political Science in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, interned for a tech recruiting firm in San Francisco after initially meeting with company representatives at an on-campus job fair. Sevil, a Biology major in the School of Health and Natural Sciences, was working with her faculty mentor, Dr. Roland Cooper, on malaria research in Uganda.

“We’ve never been apart for more than a week,” Elina said prior to leaving for Uganda. “It will be really weird, but also really great that we have these opportunities – we are ready.”

Elina, now working full-time as a technical recruiter for TEKsystems, initially visited the Dominican campus – located only five miles away from her high school -- at the recommendation of her mom, who knew of Dominican’s strong academic reputation from her colleagues at nearby Kaiser Permanente Medical Center.

“My mom had heard great things about Dominican and really wanted me to go here,” Elina recalled. “When I took my campus tour I just fell in love. I loved what I heard I could do on campus and that the professors really get to know their students.”

The fact that her tour guide was a political science major was a bonus for Elina, whose childhood experiences immigrating to the United States from Uzbekistan led to an interest in international relations.

“My grandma was a pediatrician and my mom is a nurse, so my family does not know much about political science as a major,” Elina recalled. “Our tour guide did a great job talking about the many opportunities for political science majors we all realized that this could be a great program for me.”

Elina took the opportunity and ran with it. Her freshman year she joined the debate team at the encouragement of faculty mentor Dr. Christian Dean.

"I’m really not sure I would have done this if I was attending a larger school,” she said.

The experience took her to Seattle for a debate competition and led her to seek out other on-campus positions as her confidence grew. She later became an ambassador with the Institute for Leadership Studies, a student assistant in the Barowsky School of Business (BSB), a campus leader for LeaderShape, and the BSB student representative on the Honors board.

Those experiences helped boost her resume, which was key when searching for summer internships. Enthusiastic recommendations from her faculty mentors also helped.

“Professors here really get to know their students and really care about us,” she said. “Several of my professors in both the business school and the political science department have given me their phone numbers so I can text them if I have any questions.”

Elina, who graduate a semester early in December of 2019, was the first to urge younger sister Sevil, who also attended Marin’s Terra Linda High School, to consider Dominican. Sevil had received a scholarship to Dominican by earning a Consistent Achievers Award when she was an eighth-grader at Miller Creek Elementary School.

“At first I thought that I wanted to go to a much larger school,” Sevil recalled. “But I am so glad that I came to Dominican. There’s no way I’d be doing what I’m doing now if I was at a bigger school – especially in the sciences.”

A biology major and chemistry minor, Sevil spent the summer of 2018 at Tororo District Hospital in eastern Uganda working with Dr. Cooper on a malaria study led by researchers from UCSF and funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Medicines for Malaria Venture ( Sevil examined the effects of anti-malarial drugs and exploratory compounds on parasites isolated from symptomatic malaria patients. Malaria, a disease caused by a blood parasite and transmitted by mosquitoes, is endemic in Uganda and still accounts for many deaths, especially among infants and young children.

Sevil’s undergraduate training at Dominican prepared her to work with the research team in Uganda. Like all science majors at Dominican, Sevil was able to begin working in the lab during her freshman year as part of the Research Methodology course. This laboratory experience gives students the advantage of knowing how to structure an experiment, use laboratory equipment, record results, analyze data, and present their findings for peer review.

Sevil was awarded a Global Health Disparities International Research Fellowship, a program funded by the NIH through the University of California Berkeley Center for Emerging & Neglected Diseases. Dr. Cooper is a faculty participant in the program and encouraged Sevil to apply for the summer fellowship.

Dr. Cooper and colleagues from UCSF have initiated a new five-year, NIH-funded malaria study in Burkina Faso, West Africa. The studies will look at the susceptibility of West African malaria parasites to new antimalarial compounds in pre-clinical development. The new study will allow a comparison of results with their ongoing studies in Uganda. These studies hope to provide information on the best alternatives for malaria treatment in the near future, especially in the face of potential parasite resistance to the currently used therapies.

Last year, Sevil continued to work on a malaria-related research project in Dr. Cooper’s laboratory at Dominican. The summer experience allowed her to observe the effects of this disease first-hand in Africa. She also gained insight into life as a physician through the 10-year-old Dominican Kaiser Permanente Pre-Med Mentor Program, in which students shadow Kaiser physicians during the fall and spring semesters.

“My plan right now is to go to medical school, but I’ve discovered that I really love research. I’m lucky to be able to explore options at Dominican. For a small school, there are so many opportunities.”

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