What attracted you to UConn? I liked the fact that it was a big school. Because I went to a relatively small high school, I was excited to be part of a larger community.
At about the same time I was selecting a college, Jackson Laboratories was building a facility on UConn Health’s campus in Farmington, Connecticut. I thought that attending UConn might offer me more connections to the company and its prominence in the field of genetics and cancer research.
What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am a diagnostic genetic sciences major. When I started at UConn, I was majoring in molecular and cell biology until someone told me there was a program for genetics. Then, I met Dr. Judy Brown, who is now the director of the program. She introduced me to the fields of cytogenetics and molecular diagnostics, which are the two concentrations in the program.
My high school biology class introduced me to genetics with the study of pedigrees and Punnett squares. I am excited about how fast the industry changes and the possibility of more discoveries within my lifetime.
Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? My radio show, DNA Today, has been a great learning experience for me. I interview researchers, professors, genetic counselors and patient advocates. The show develops my teaching and broadcasting skills and allows me network with professionals while learning about their careers.
The show has solidified my goal to enter the rapidly expanding genetic counseling field. These healthcare professionals have specialized graduate degrees, and they help translate genetic information to patients and doctors.
It is important to get the public, especially kids, involved and excited about the world of science. I watched Bill Nye and The Magic School Bus when I was younger, and it really intrigued me. I want to ignite that same passion in other people.
Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. I started working for the digital health company, My Gene Counsel, as an intern in sophomore year, and, now, I am the communications lead. After President and CEO Ellen Matloff was a guest on the show, she asked me to work for her. It has been a thrill to contribute to this young company. My role immerses me in many aspects of the field of genetic counseling, writing and social media management.
In addition, I am doing an independent study to design an undergraduate introductory course for genetic counseling. I hope that the class will be offered soon as an online class that exposes students to counseling skills and varying subfields.
What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I noticed that it takes me longer to do my studying than it does my peers. It is a challenge balancing jobs, the radio show, studies and friends, but I have adjusted over the years.
When do you expect to graduate? What then? In January, I start a six-month internship at a cytogenetics lab, AmeriPath in Shelton, Connecticut. I graduate in May 2017. I’ll take a gap year and work in a cytogenetics lab or possibly in a healthcare communications role. I definitely plan to continue DNA Today. As for the future, I would like to go to graduate school for genetic counseling.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? My favorite interview on my show was with the descendants of Henrietta Lacks. It was a starstruck moment for me because I know how important their grandmother’s cells (HeLa cells) are to science. The following August, I featured the interview in an article on the Jackson Laboratory blog in celebration of her birthday.
If you are interested in genetics, please check out DNA Today and tune in to WHUS 91.7FM on Fridays at 10:30 AM. And, if you work in the field of genetics, please contact me. I am always looking for new guests.
By Marlese Lessing January 25, 2017