Seventh semester senior Ester Wasserman is from East Haddam, Connecticut. She’s been a counselor at the Hole in The Wall Gang Camp for three years, where she interacts with kids diagnosed with serious illnesses. A diagnostic genetic sciences major, Wasserman enjoys working with kids, watching documentaries and crafting needlepoint DNA structures. Here is what she said about her experiences as a CAHNR student.
What attracted you to UConn? I went to a STEM magnet high school in Hartford, called the Academy of Aerospace and Engineering. UConn was close, and it had a great academic reputation. The DGS program has given me so many opportunities, and I’m glad for that.
What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am a diagnostic genetic sciences major. I was originally majoring in physiology and neurobiology, and I was on the pre-med track in my freshman year. I went to an honors event about genetic counseling, which was led by Dr. Judy Brown. I didn’t even know that was a profession. When I left, I realized that genetic counseling really interested me. After doing some research, I applied to the program in my sophomore year. I’m incredibly fascinated by genetics and how it influences everything about us.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? Over the past winter break and throughout May, I worked at the UConn Health Center. I worked with genetic counselors who help run a hotline for pregnant women called MothertoBabyCT. I got to do a lot of shadowing genetic counselling sessions and read literature on various types of teratogenic exposures. I want to be a prenatal genetic counselor, so it was super cool to be able to do all that.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. The Hole in The Wall Gang camp was a big influence on my career choice. My brother had cancer when he was little and he attended the camp. I was a sibling camper, and I applied to be a full-time camp counselor for the summer after my freshman year. It has really shaped who I am as a person and how I want to spend the rest of my life. Many of the kids I have worked with have serious diseases, such as metabolic disorders, sickle cell anemia and cancer, all of which are caused by genetics. I want to give back to them.
In addition, I was part of the Women in STEM (WiSTEM), and I got to mentor a student who was interested in genetics. I introduced her to the DGS program and she was really excited about it. She’s volunteered at the camp, and I’ve developed a really good relationship with her. She is applying to the DGS program this January. It was a great opportunity for upper-class female students to mentor younger students interested in science.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? Trying to stay involved on campus. I do a lot outside of campus, but I feel like I need to interact with organizations within the campus. I tend to focus on my studying, and it’s hard to pull myself away from it to take part in student activities.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? I graduate in May 2017. I have a clinical internship at Yale from January until June, and I’ll get experience in the field of cytogenetics. I then plan on taking a gap year and getting some lab experience before applying to a master’s program in genetic counseling. I’d love to get a PhD.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? My favorite memory of Hole in The Wall Gang Camp happened right after I became a counselor. One week, I worked with a cabin of senior campers (age 14 to 15), and we had the best week, since it was their last year at camp. I dressed up as a fairy godmother and tried to grant all of their wishes for their last week at camp. At the end of the week, one of the campers came up to me and told me that he had cried that week more than he had while he was in the hospital. It really made me realize how much love and healing we can provide for those kids.
If you’re interested in the Hole in The Wall Gang Camp, please check it out and apply to volunteer or work as a counselor this summer at www.holeinthewallgang.org.