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2021 Churchill Scholar

Six in a Row!


Isaac Martin brings home the U's sixth straight Churchill Scholarship.

For the sixth consecutive year a College of Science student has received the prestigious Churchill Scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Isaac Martin, a senior honors student majoring in mathematics and physics, is one of only 17 students nationally to receive the award this year.

Martin’s designation ties Harvard’s six-year run of consecutive Churchill Scholars (1987-1992) and is second only to Princeton’s seven-year streak (1994-2000).

“Isaac’s recognition as a Churchill Scholar is the result of years of remarkable discipline and dedication to a field of study that he loves,” said Dan Reed, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

Martin decided to apply for a Churchill Scholarship as a freshman, after meeting for lunch with Michael Zhao, a 2017 Churchill Scholar who unexpectedly passed away in 2018.

“I am positively delighted and quite flabbergasted to receive the scholarship,” Martin says, “but I wish I could phone Michael to thank him for making the opportunity known to me. His legacy lives on in the undergraduate program of the math department here at Utah, where many others like me have greatly benefited from the example he set.”

Martin, a recipient of an Eccles Scholarship and a 2020 Barry Goldwater Scholarship, remembers as a kindergartener trying to write down the biggest number in existence and, as an eighth grader, suddenly understanding trigonometry after hours of reading on Wikipedia.

“That sensation of understanding, the feeling that some tiny secret of the universe was suddenly laid bare before me – that’s something I’ve only felt while studying math and physics, and it’s a high I will continue to chase for the rest of my life,” he says.

Books by Carl Sagan and Jim Baggott also kindled his love of math and physics, and after several years of self-directed study in middle and high school and a year at Salt Lake Community College, Martin enrolled at the U as a mathematics and physics double major.

After early undergraduate experiences in the research labs of physics professors Vikram Deshpande and Yue Zhao, Martin found himself gravitating more toward mathematics. He completed a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at UC Santa Barbara studying almost Abelian Lie groups, which have applications in cosmology and crystallography, under Zhirayr Avetisyan. This experience resulted in Martin’s first research paper. He later completed another REU at the University of Chicago.

“This research was incredibly rewarding because while it applied to physics, the work itself was firmly rooted in the realm of pure math.” Martin says.

Returning to Utah, Martin worked with professors Karl Schwede and Thomas Polstra to study F-singularities, and developed this work into a single-author paper and his currently-in-progress honors thesis with professor Anurag Singh.

“I would not be where I am today without the incredible faculty at Utah and their willingness to devote time to undergraduates,” Martin says.

At Cambridge, Martin hopes to study algebraic geometry, number theory and representation theory (“in that order,” he says) in pursuit of a master’s degree in pure mathematics.

“I’m particularly interested in learning as much as I can about mirror symmetry, which I intend to make my essay topic,” he adds. “I also plan to drink a lot of tea and to buy one of those Sherlock Holmes coats. I will also begrudgingly begin using the term ‘maths’ but I promise to stop the instant I board a plane back to the U.S. in 2022.”

After he returns from Cambridge, Martin plans to earn a doctoral degree in pure mathematics and enter academia, using his experiences in many different educational systems including U.S. and British public schools, homeschooling and online learning, to broaden opportunities for students from a diversity of backgrounds.

“My past has molded me into who I am today,” he says, “and I hope I can use my experiences to create programs in STEM for opportunity-starved students, whether they are held back due to non-traditional schooling or to socio-economic factors.”

 

by Paul Gabrielsen - First Published in @theU

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Vignesh Iyer

Vignesh Iyer


How did you become interested in math?
I’ve always gravitated toward STEM subjects even in elementary school. In college, I was exposed to various subjects but a common language each subject used was math. I’m a curious student and hungry to consume as much knowledge as possible. Math is a universal language that allows me to communicate with those in different fields and tells me how things work. Math has allowed me to explore other subjects and influences the way I interact with problems—from social sciences to applied sciences and engineering.

What kind of internship did you have while at the U? How did you get it?  What did you like about it?
At the beginning of 2020, I started interning for the Pharmacotherapy Outcomes Research Center (PORC) at the University of Utah College of Pharmacy. I applied using the College of Science internship page. I loved interning with the PORC because it allowed me to engage in computational mathematics, work in pharmacology, and interact with different data science and statistical analysis techniques. The team I worked with was performing a correlational study between medication types and bile-duct cancers. I was able to work on the entire computing and mathematics aspect of the study and learn some cool chemistry along the way. My favorite part of the internship was learning how to access databases and interpret the information using data analysis.

You finished your bachelor’s degree and are now in graduate school at the University of California, Irvine. What are you studying?
I entered UC Irvine last fall to begin my graduate studies in mathematics. Graduate school is a whole new challenge but it’s such an enjoyable challenge! My coursework has really taught me to think in new ways, and I’m able to explore new areas of mathematics. At the moment, my favorite class is abstract algebra because it’s a whole new area of math I’ve never been exposed to. I think the online learning part of graduate school has presented learning curves but they’re interesting learning curves.

I’d like to continue my graduate studies in mathematics and get a Ph.D., whether that’s returning to the U. or staying here at home in Southern California.

Is there an area of research that interests you in math? What do you like about it?
I’m interested in applied and computational mathematics. More specifically, I’m interested in applying computational mathematics to data science and machine learning. Applied and computational mathematics explores modeling and/or simulating systems using computers and various mathematical subjects, such as numerical methods, inverse problems, etc. What I like about applied and computational mathematics is that it allows me to be an all-around researcher and engage and contribute to different fields.

Long-term career plans?
After my graduate studies are completed, I’d like to pursue a career in robotics, focusing primarily on research and development in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics

Kyle Kazemini

Kyle Kazemini


How did you become interested in math?
I had an exceptional math teacher in high school. He had a great sense of humor and genuinely cared about all of his students. He also loved math and it was apparent in his teaching. His lessons were both fun and interesting. My enjoyment prompted me to take calculus and decide to study math further. My interest in math has only continued to grow.

How did you get your internship?
My math advisor, Angie Gardiner, told me about the College of Science Internship Program, and I applied for some positions. I was hired as a sports science intern for University of Utah Athletics. The people I worked with were great, and they all made me feel like part of the team.

My first project was to transform ForceDecks data. ForceDecks is a system for analyzing an athlete’s performance and to make assessments. The data from ForceDecks has a unique format that’s difficult to use in statistical programming languages like R and Python. My job was to develop a tool to fix this issue. I used Excel and VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) to create an automated tool for transforming the data into a user-friendly format.

My second project was to analyze the ForceDecks data. Now that it had a better format, I used R to analyze the data. The purpose of the analysis was to detect athlete asymmetries and possible injury risks. I generated statistics, tables, and plots. These projects made use of both my statistical and programming skills. I enjoyed this internship because I love applying math and computer science in interesting and impactful ways. Because of this internship, I have since become interested in quantitative medicine.

You’re involved in the Directed Reading Program. What is it? 
The Directed Reading Program is a mentoring program between graduate and undergraduate students, who work together on a reading project in mathematics. Any student can sign up for the program, regardless of their level in math. I heard about it through Math Department announcements, and I’m so happy I did. My graduate student mentor is awesome! We’ve read about differential equations and basic mathematical biology. Currently, we’re reading about partial differential equations.

What year are you?  
I’m a junior and plan on graduating in the spring of 2023. I’m taking an extra year since I’m doing a double major with computer science. My interest in computer science started when I took some CS courses as part of my math major. After learning some of the basics of CS, I began to wonder what was out there. Since then, I’ve become excited about theoretical computer science, as well as image processing and computer vision. Studying computer science has made me better at math and vice versa. Although math is the subject I love most, I think studying CS gives me a different perspective on mathematical problems. I also love learning about computing for its own sake.

What about career plans? 
I’m planning on doing a Ph.D. in math, but I’m still narrowing down my research interests. I’m deciding between pure and applied math because I enjoy things like applied mathematical biology, but I also just love math problems on their own. In addition to math bio, I’m interested in partial differential equations. I’m excited to learn about the theory behind PDEs, including real analysis, functional analysis, and Sobolev spaces.

Hobbies or interests outside of math?
I started studying Muay Thai (Thai boxing) when I was 13. Muay Thai is like kickboxing, except with elbows and knees. I was taking classes at a gym for about three years, but now I do it just for fun/exercise at home on a punching bag. I think martial arts are awesome for learning things like discipline and self-confidence.

I also love film—my favorite film is Good Will Hunting, which is pretty typical for a math nerd! I love it because it has a math genius, a great love story, and it’s about triumphing over difficult challenges. I enjoy most film genres—anything from romance to horror to documentaries.

I’m new to snowboarding, and I really like it. My favorite resort (for now) is Brighton. Currently, my favorite video game is CSGO(Counter-Strike: Global Offensive). I don’t play a lot of games because school keeps me busy, but in the past I’ve loved playing Skyrim, Call of Duty, and Halo.

I’ve wanted to build my own computer for years, and I finally did it for the first time a few months ago. I use it for school, work, and for intensive tasks that my laptop just can’t handle. Building it made me really happy!

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics

Brennan Mahoney

Brennan Mahoney


“As a child I always seemed to have an interest in animals,” says Brennan Mahoney, HBS’20, “and  originally  I wanted  to  be  a   veterinarian!”     Fate, however, would intervene for this Sandy, Utah native.

When he was ten years old Mahoney’s father had a massive heart attack in the left anterior descending artery (LAD), what’s colloquially called the “widow-maker” because when it is blocked it often results in the patient’s death. His father survived thanks to the “herculean efforts,” of the medical team.

“The work of the doctors and how they treated my family throughout the period of his recovery,” he says, “… turned my interests in biology towards its applications in the field of medicine.” Mahoney’s father would eventually receive a heart transplant nearly two years to the date of the attack, and Mahoney would later enroll in pre-med at the University of Utah where, when he’s not studying, he enjoys playing the guitar and piano, cooking, hiking, (“This is Utah, of course,” he says) … and following Ute football.

The summer after his freshman year, Mahoney worked toward his certification as a nursing assistant (CNA) so that he could start gaining clinical experience. “I worked as a home health aide in many different contexts,” he explains, “but mostly dealt with people who had neurological disorders or injuries.” It was during this time that he met a client who, prior to his injury, had worked as a researcher, and the experience pushed Mahoney to look for opportunities in a neuroscience lab. At the same time, Mahoney also worked as a tutor at West High School in Salt Lake City.

Enter Sophie Caron, professor in the School of Biological Sciences who at the time held the endowed Mario Capecchi Chair, named after Utah’s Nobel laureate who holds joint appointments in SBS and Human Genetics at the U. Caron’s lab studies multisensory integration (MI), a process by which brains integrate sensory information into a comprehensive picture of their environment.

The Caron lab, 2020

“For the study of this,” reports Mahoney who graduated with honors last summer but continues working in the Caron lab as a technician, we “used a brain area known as the mushroom body of [the fruit fly] D. melanogaster as a model.” The Caron team characterized the connection of neurons from multiple sensory modalities using a technique known as GFP reconstitution across synaptic partners or GRASP for short. “With knowledge of the patterns underlining MI, this logic could be applied to more complex brains,” says Mahoney, including, potentially, the human brain.

The research culminated in a first publication for Mahoney and his undergraduate colleague Miles Jacob, also credited as a co-author. The article, which made the cover of the journal Cell Reports highlights fundamental differences in the way associate brain centers, notably the mushroom body, integrate sensory information and converge in higher order brain centers. The findings are built  on previous work from the Caron lab that described a pathway conveying visual information from the medulla to the ventral accessary calyx of the mushroom body. “[O]ur study,” reads the article abstract, “defines a second, parallel pathway that is anatomically poised to convey information from the visual system to the dorsal accessary calyx.”

It is these kinds of scientific findings that inspire a young researcher like Brennan Mahoney to keep going. His ambition, in fact, is to apply to an MD/PhD program where he can continue in research that can help health professionals practice the good work that he witnessed first-hand when his father was singularly under their care.

"The efforts of my father's medical team allowed him to live so that he could continue to raise me and my two brothers and continue to live a happy and full life to this day. I hope to be able to help people in that same capacity, be it through direct patient care or through the findings of my future research."

The School of Biological Sciences regularly grants the Research Scholar Award to deserving undergraduate researchers like Brennan Mahoney. You can support these scholarships through a donation here.

by David Pace

Boyana Martinova

Boyana Martinova


Why did you choose math as your major?

I chose math because I love problem solving. I always knew I wanted to pursue a degree in math because, unlike most things, there is always a right answer, which I find incredibly satisfying.

What do you like about the Math Department? What makes it special?

The Math Department is relatively small, so it’s a tight-knit group of people. Since the class sizes are small, I’ve gotten to know my professors and peers really well, which makes it feel as if I am hanging out with my friends, learning about something we all find super interesting rather than just sitting in math class. Additionally, since you get to know your classmates so well, there’s a strong support system within the department, and you can always find someone willing to help you. I think that’s really special, and you don’t usually find that at an institution as large as the U.

What kind of research or internship opportunities have you had? How did you find them?

I’ve been conducting research with the same professor since the spring semester of my freshman year. As an incoming freshman, I participated in the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics, which introduced me to research and helped me find a lab in the department. I have stuck with it ever since.

How has the research helped prepare you for a career?

Participating in research as an undergrad has entirely shaped what I want to do professionally. I came into college thinking I wanted to work in industry, but after a few semesters of research, I know that I actually want to do research for as long as possible. There are countless topics in math that we're just starting to understand, and it’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of that process.

What do you plan to do with your math degree?

I will be graduating in the spring, and my plan is to move on to a Ph.D. program in Pure Mathematics. I still have so much to learn, and I can’t wait to explore the subfields within math that interest me most, such as abstract algebra. Ultimately, I want to continue my research and hopefully make a career in academia.

What do you wish you had known about the department when you applied to the U in high school?

I wish I'd known how well ranked the U’s Math Department is! I originally applied to the U because it was close to home and had everything that I was looking for, but I had no idea of the great reputation of the department. If I'd known this, it definitely would have made my decision of where to go to college easier.

What advice would you give to high school students who are considering joining the U and majoring in math?

One huge piece of advice I have is that anyone can do math! I know math can seem daunting at times, but all that’s needed to be successful is a passion for math and some determination. The other students and faculty at the U have been consistently supportive of my endeavors in the field, and I can’t envision a better place to get an undergraduate degree.

What do you think are some of the selling points of the department that high school students should know about?

Unlike other institutions, the Math Department has an abundance of research opportunities for undergraduates. There are even programs that pay undergrads to work on a research project with a professor, so it’s really easy to get involved.

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics

Science Themed Communities

 Science THemed Communities


One way to deepen your engagement at the U is to live in a College of Science Themed Community: College of Science First Year Floor at Kahlert Village or the Crocker Science House on Officers Circle. These communities are designed to bring students with similar interests, majors, goals, and experiences together.

College of Science First Year Floor


Kahlert Village is the newest residential community on campus and is home to approximately 990 first year students. The building features double and single rooms in cluster and suite-style configurations. Kahlert Village is centrally located on campus, includes a full-service dining facility, and a variety of classroom and study space available for students. A meal plan is required in this living area.

If you are a first year student pursuing a degree in the College of Science the Science First Year Floor is an excellent opportunity for you. Residents support each other through the rigors of their coursework while deepening their connection to the College of Science faculty, alumni, staff, and opportunities.  Resident Advisors are science students who can help mentor you through your academic career.

Crocker Science House


Nestled in Officers' Circle, at the base of the Wasatch foothills and the Shoreline Trail, the Crocker Science House provides a unique opportunity for twelve science students to live and learn together in a beautifully restored building once occupied by military officers. Crocker Science Scholars have the opportunity to attend lectures, dinners, and other events with luminaries of Utah's business, science, and academic communities. In 2018, Mario Capecchi joined the students for dinner and ping-pong. A meal plan is required in this living area.

Crocker Science Scholars come from a variety of geographic, cultural, and academic backgrounds, united by a strong drive to succeed in the physical and life sciences.   Scholars often find that living in close quarters with students from other disciplines helps them with their own work and encourages them to explore avenues of science they would not have considered otherwise.

Frequently asked questions


Complete the Housing & Residential application and select the College of Science First Year Floor as your preferred Themed Community by the priority deadline of March 10.

 

Complete the Housing & Residential application and select the Science First Year Floor as your preferred Themed Community by the priority deadline of March 10.

A supplemental application is also required to be considered for the Crocker Science House.

Apply now for the Crocker Science House!

 

Selection for the College of Science First Year Floor and the Crocker Science House is completed by the College of Science. 

There are three main components that factor into how much it costs to live on campus: location, room type and meal plan. 

Pay your housing bill in monthly installments, rather than a lump sum at once. Payment plan enrollment is is fast and simple.

  • No hassle withdrawals are automatically deducted from designated checking or savings account, or charged to a credit card
  • Calculate the amount you wish to have in your payment plan by using the payment estimator tool

No scholarship is currently available for the College of Science First Year Floor.

Students accepted to reside in the Crocker Science House receive a scholarship to assist with housing expenses, making this opportunity accessible to a wide range of students.


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Women in Mathematics

Women in Mathematics


Last spring, the Math Department’s student chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) planned a conference, with speakers, mini courses, breakout sessions, and professional development panels. About 60 participants were expected. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit in March, everything changed, and the conference was canceled.

Despite the setback, the chapter still moved forward and will host a series of online activities and communications for attendees. In recognition of these remarkable efforts, the chapter was recently selected as the winner of the 2020 AWM Student Chapter Award for Scientific Excellence. Christel Hohenegger, associate professor of mathematics, serves as faculty advisor for the chapter.

"We are very thankful and excited to have won this award and receive national recognition,” said Claire Plunkett, vice president of the chapter for 2020-2021. “This is a national award from the AWM, and we are one of more than a hundred student chapters, so it’s a great honor to be chosen. We feel the award reflects how our chapter's activities have continued to grow and gain momentum over the past several years, and we’re excited to continue to sponsor events and expand our activities.”

For the academic year, the chapter has invited four speakers and all talks will be held on Zoom. Confirmed speakers include Nilima Nigam, professor of mathematics at Simon Fraser University; Kristin Lauter, principal researcher and partner research manager for the Cryptography and Privacy Research group at Microsoft Research; and Christine Berkesch, associate professor of mathematics at the University of Minnesota. The annual conference has been rescheduled for June 2021.

In addition, the chapter will continue to host joint monthly lunch discussions with the SIAM (Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) student chapter; a professor panel in which faculty research is shared with students; joint LaTeX (a software system for document preparation) workshops held with the SIAM student chapter; a screening of a documentary called Picture aScientist, a discussion co-hosted with other women in STEM groups; and bi-weekly informal social meetings. For more information about the U’s AWM chapter, visit http://www.math.utah.edu/awmchapter/.

 - first published by the Department of Mathematics

Why Science?

opportunity is knocking


Better ranked for 1/2 the cost.

We empower our students to achieve their ambitions.

It is the mission of the College of Science to connect our students with the vast opportunities that mathematics and science unlock. We develop the tools for critical thinking and reason. We prepare students for exciting careers, and educate the next generation of scientific leaders.

Over the last five decades, thousands of students have used their degrees from the College of Science to launch professional careers around the globe. Science and mathematics degrees prepare students for success in a wide range of careers including industry, academics, health, business, and law.

Nobel Laureate Mario Capecchi

Alumni of the College of Science include co-founders of Fortune 500 companies, pioneers of Utah’s software and biotechnology booms, and internationally-recognized leaders in health and technology.

College students have the opportunity to work with world-renowned faculty, including members of the National Academy of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The School of Biological Sciences, Department of Chemistry, Department of Mathematics and the Department of Physics and Astronomy, are consistently ranked among the highest performing on campus and throughout the region.

 

 

 

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Anna Vickrey, PhD’20

Anna Vickrey


Anna Vickrey who graduated from the School of Biological Sciences with a PhD in 2020 has always been fascinated with domestication, both the process and the "products" which include the plants and animals important to our lives and history as humans. "I became really interested in the morphological diversity present both in domestic breeds and natural species by going to a lot of dog shows," she says.

The Salt Lake City native also had chickens and pigeons, growing up, and spent time around wild bird species ("My mom 'rehabbed' wild birds out of our house," she reports). As an undergrad at the University of Utah, she became curious about how diversity is generated at the genetic level. "Naively, I was wondering if differences in morphology are generated by 'coding' or 'regulatory' changes to genes. In reality," she admits, "it’s more complicated than that!)." Fortunately for her, this was one of the questions that Professor Mike Shapiro was asking in his pigeon lab which she was able to join and where she continued working through her graduation last spring.

Vickrey keeps pigeons as pets, mostly American Show Racer and Archangel breeds, so the model subject of her research for the past several years is one she'd had a longstanding interest in. While in the Shapiro lab she studied wing color patterns in domestic pigeons. "Even though we know that color patterns are really important for animals in the wild (for things like camouflage and mate choice), there’s still a lot that’s not known about how patterns are generated at the genetic and molecular level," she says. "I also work on head crests, a type of ornamental feather structure--sort of a fancy feather-do--that are present in lots of pigeon breeds and wild bird species."

For each of these projects, she and her team learned some surprising things about the genes that cause these traits. For example, pigeons with a wing color pattern called "barless" also can have vision defects that are called “foggy vision” by pigeon breeders. "The gene that we found is associated with the barless color pattern is known to cause hereditary blindness in humans when the gene is mutated." And while the researchers didn’t expect to discover this connection, foggy vision in barless pigeons is caused by eye defects that are similar to humans with this type of hereditary blindness.

Hitting the books in the Shapiro Lab.

Staggeringly, there are over 300 breeds of domestic rock pigeon. Similar to dogs, these breeds can look extremely different from one another (think of the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane) even though they’re all the same species. Also, the pigeons all over a typical city like Salt Lake are “ferals,” she explains, meaning they’ve descended from the same domestic species.

The School of Biological Sciences houses research on a huge diversity of topics. "As an undergrad and then a grad student I’ve always felt very lucky to have exposure to such diversity--everything from crystallography and protein biochemistry to rainforest ecology!" she says. Now with her PhD, it's clear to Vickrey that it's important to be a lifelong learner. Even while currently finishing up the projects in the Shapiro lab, "we're starting to get some really cool results looking at the bright red skin around the eyes."

In turns out that the color may be another trait that was hybridized into domestic pigeons from the African speckled pigeon. She and her colleagues will also be kept busy during the next few months looking for modifier genes that control head crest size.

And what are her plans long-term? "I want to stay on a career path that allows me to continue to communicate science while keeping me connected to science. I'm really interested in genetic counseling but I'm also looking at a science policy fellowship."

Clearly, Vickrey whose heroes include Marie Curie, the Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, is characterized by a diversity of inquiry she found so available at SBS. Indicative of that are other heroes of hers that she ticks off:  Latino artist Frida Kahlo, the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (most famous for his iconic The Little Prince), and the late marine biologist Rachel Carson whose signature Silent Spring spring-boarded conservation and nature writing into the national conversation. All of these people, like Vickrey, possess determination, creativity, and passion.

Armed with her doctorate, Anna Vickrey will eventually land at her next formal adventure animated by scientific research and intense learning. In the meantime, her love of domesticated animals continues, an interest that threads through her inquisitive life before and during her time at the U, and now post graduation. Along with reading fiction and cooking, she will always enjoy trail running with her dogs. "I [also] go to a lot of 'animal competitions'" she says, looking for the right term to describe her enduring interest outside her research, "like quarter horse races and sheepdog trials."

 

 

Dominique Pablito

Dominique Pablito

"My interest in medicine stems from my childhood experience."

Dominque Pablito grew up in the small town of Aneth, Utah, on the Navajo Nation, and in New Mexico on the Zuni Reservation. She lived in a four-bedroom house with 13 family members, sharing a bedroom with her mother and brother, and visited relatives for extended stays.

“I spent time with my great grandmother, whose house had no running water or electricity,” said Pablito.

Because her grandparents did not speak English, Pablito learned the Zuni and Navajo languages. Pablito said her father, an alcoholic, came in and out of her life.

“I spent time with his family in the Zuni Pueblo,” said Pablito. “I love the connection that the Zuni have with the land and the spirits of the land.”

With access to math and science courses limited in reservation schools, Pablito convinced her family to move.

“We ran out of gas in Saint George, Utah, where I registered for high school even though my family was unable to find housing,” said Pablito. “During my first quarter at my new school, I slept in a 2008 Nissan Xterra with my mother, brother and grandmother while I earned straight As, took college courses at Dixie State University and competed in varsity cross country.”

Pablito met her goal of graduating from high school in three years, racking up honors and college credits.

“My mother told me I would have to excel in school to get a scholarship for college,” said Pablito. “When I graduated at 15 with an excellent GPA, having taken college courses at night and with exceptional ACT and SAT scores, I was sure I would earn the Gates Millennium Scholarship. It wasn’t enough.”

Dominique Pablito

To compensate, she applied for 15 scholarships and was awarded 12, including the Larry H. Miller Enrichment Scholarship—a full ride.

For Pablito, the transition to college life was jarring.

“It was the first time I had my own bed in my own bedroom,” said Pablito. “I missed being so close to my Zuni culture. I brought small kachina figurines with me and did my best to decorate my room like my old homes.”

Despite her hard work in high school, Pablito was not prepared for college academics and sought help from tutors, professors, and TAs.

“I spent late nights watching tutorials on YouTube,” said Pablito. “College retention rates for indigenous students are exceptionally low, so instead of going home for the summer, I sought out research internships and difficult coursework to keep busy.”

Academics were not her only challenge.

“I started college at 15 and by age 16 I had no parents,” said Pablito. “My mother was abusive and we ceased contact. At 17, I was diagnosed with an adrenal tumor, which pushed my strength to its limits. I never felt more alone in my life.”

For support, she turned to her grandparents.

“Hearing their voices speaking the languages I grew up with helped with my loneliness,” said Pablito. “My grandfather didn’t allow me to drop out of college.”

Pablito also reached out to Indigenous student groups.

“I joined AISES and the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP), which connected me with community elders,” said Pablito. “I tutored students in math and science and assisted in teaching Diné Bizaad (Navajo) to students who had never heard the language. Being a part of these communities has been crucial in my success.”

She also credits her research internships with helping her discover her strengths.

“I decided to major in chemistry when I participated in the PathMaker Research Program at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, where I used biochemistry to investigate DNA damage and repair in cancer cells,” said Pablito. “Dr. Srividya Bhaskara guided me through the world of research, helping me earn many awards and grants.”

In the lab Pablito learned the important lesson that failure is inevitable.

“I began to think that science wasn’t for me, until I understood that failure is a part of research,” said Pablito. “What matters is how you handle that failure.”

She had a different lab experience during an internship at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. There she used targeted photoactivatable multi-inhibitor liposomes to induce site-specific cell damage in various cancer cells.

“That’s where my research interest in cancer and molecular biology developed,” said Pablito. “That internship taught me how to effectively present scientific data and how important community can be for the success of Native students.”

Her interest in medicine stems from her childhood experience with the Indian Health Service.

“Many of my elders distrusted going to doctors because most health care providers are white,” said Pablito. “My great-grandfathers’ illnesses could have been treated much better had they visited a doctor sooner. I will use my medical training to improve the care of elders on my reservation by integrating culture, language and medicine.”

In addition to earning an MD in family medicine, Pablito plans to earn a doctoral degree in cancer biology and eventually open a lab on the Zuni Pueblo to expose students to research.

“I want to spark an interest in STEM in future generations of Indigenous scholars,” said Pablito. “I want to give them advantages I never had.”

 

by D.J. Pollard
American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES).

The AISES magazine, People in Winds of Change, focuses on career and educational advancement for Native people in STEM fields. The article below first appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue.