Of all the categories, I need the most work in global engagement. I will continue to select classes that include a global awareness component. I won’t be doing study abroad so I will have to make a careful effort to seek out enriching activities.
These last two semesters, I worked several hours a week in a spinal cord injury lab. Having spent a portion of my first year in the same lab, I decided to finish up in the lab this past semester so that I can pursue other commitments. The last project I worked on was definitely my favorite. My grad student wanted to lay groundwork for a study using DREADD mice, which stands for Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs. The mice have been engineered to express receptors which respond to designer ligands. The ligands are not naturally produced by the mouse, so this powerful tool gives the researcher the ability to selectively stimulate the receptors. My contribution was quantifying images using a software called ImageJ. ImageJ is becoming quite popular for image analysis in laboratories but my lab had not yet embraced it. I figured out how to utilize the software for cell counts on my own, including typing up a guide for others, and tinkering with automated cell count settings. Using a software like ImageJ for cell counts is a huge benefit because of its speed — but only if the data can be consistent with the human eye. When a researcher decides how to execute a cell count, many factors go into judging whether a spot in the image is “in” or “out”. While these judgements are split-second for a human quantifier, the software needs the boundaries to be carefully set. In order to find the best settings, I compared manual and automated counts for the samples at the extreme ends of the spectrum. The project was personally rewarding because I was able to make progress with a new technique.
This year I made the tough decision to switch from neuroscience to biochemistry major. Choosing to switch was a personal challenge because I was well underway in my neuroscience curriculum and I had found a wonderful community and support network. My plans for undergraduate and beyond were neatly wrapped up in a bow. Switching — purposefully moving into the unknown — required flexibility and self-assurance. The biochemistry major would require some of the hardest undergraduate classes, including mathematics up to calculus 3 and physical chemistry. Maintaining grades is definitely a concern for me.
The decision become clear when I thought about myself in 5 years, looking back on this. I would either say “I pursued what was convenient and secure,” or “I put myself on the line a little bit to pursue a truer passion.” I want to start off my life off on the right foot, by making a decision that reflects my most authentic self. Switching meant trusting myself to succeed. I decided to use my neuroscience courses towards a minor, and I changed up my course path to reflect a bachelor’s of science in biochemistry.
I’ve continued to invest time in the OAC since I was hired in October, 2017. Fast forward to now, six trips and numerous trainings over the past year, and I’m scheduled to hold my first full Trip Leader position for a Wilderness Welcome trip this summer. I’m ecstatic! Leading trips has improved my self-confidence, assertiveness, and interpersonal skills. In addition to holding my first full leader role, this trip will give me a chance to make it meaningful my two apprentices — both students that have not led trips before. I have spent most of my time up to this point being a learner, but now the script is flipped and I have the opportunity to guide an aspiring trip leader.
Second semester, I tried something I’ve never done before: a RAM trip! RAM, Remote Area Medical, is an organization that provides free medical, dental, and vision care to whoever. I traveled with a group of other students to Harrisonburg, VA and volunteered at the week long clinic. I took up numerous jobs during my time there. My favorite things I did were being a greeter and working in the sterilization unit. Being a greeter allowed me to make a connection with people, which is usually my favorite part of any activity. The sterilization unit offered more of an opportunity for learning because you get to work with the the different types of dental equipment and the sterilization process for each. The weekend was long — we worked from 5 am to 5 pm the first day, and 5 am to 10 am the second day. Squeezing it in over the weekend was particularly rough because the drive was 6 hours each way. Nonetheless, I plan to help out again. The organization has a great mission and at the clinic, I saw the impact first hand.