Shining Student Star

Congratulations to DGS student Kathleen Renna ! She is an honors undergraduate researcher who was recently included as an author on a published paper! Kathleen has been working in Dr. Ephraim Trakhtenberg’s Lab in the Department of Neuroscience at UConn Health since she was a freshman. The paper is titled “Single cell transcriptome profiling of retinal ganglion identifies cellular subtypes.” Find the full research article here:

To find out more about Kathleen see her featured article at 

Through a competitive application process, Kat was one of only 9 exceptional students selected for the inaugural BOLD cohort. These students represent a diverse set of interests, skills, identities, and project concepts. The BOLD Women’s Leadership Network is a pioneering program cultivating courageous leadership in young women during the college years and beyond. BOLD focuses on facilitating opportunities for women’s career development and networking through scholarship funding, programming, and engagement in service/leadership projects. By awarding scholarship and fellowship funding, the BOLD initiative mitigates financial burdens while allowing young leaders to leverage their own identities, strengths, and collective knowledge to effect positive social change. BOLD equips young women to be innovative agents of change in their lives and in whatever career field or industry they pursue after graduation.

The University Scholar Program is one of the most prestigious programs for undergraduates at the University of Connecticut. The University Scholar Program allows students to design and pursue an in-depth research or creative project and to craft an individualized plan of study that supports their intellectual interests during their final three semesters. Kat was selected among the competitive applicants and is one of only 20 selected for 2019.

Kat is an exceptional DGS Student and we commend her on her dedication!

We Work in GENES

DGS students Carolyn Sullivan (’19), Kenzie McFarland (’19) and Harmony Knudsen (’19 – not pictured) represented the Diagnostic Genetic Sciences Program at The ACES Majors Fair. The Majors Fair is an excellent opportunity to inform students about all the academic programs the University of Connecticut has to offer. The DGS table was complete with karyotypes, candy and ‘jeans’. Great job girls!  Check out the THROW BACK Photo on the Right ..there was no iPad at this event, but they made their own T-shirts.. Class of 2006!!!.  Erin, Cynthia, Holly, Ryan, Jamie, Sam, Erin, Lauren


Students Attend Regional Genetics Conference

In November of 2017, six DGS students had the privilege of attending the New England Regional Genetics Group (NERGG) Annual Meeting in Portsmouth, NH. Anna Mackay, Harmony Knudsen, Samantha Santovasi, Carolyn Sullivan, Kenzie McFarland, and Emily O’Heir all had the opportunity to learn more about current topics/events in the field and meet working professionals who share a common passion for genetics. Overall a great educational and networking experience for these undergraduates.

Kaniz Koli – Naturally Today

A first generation college student in her family, Kaniz Koli was born in Bangladesh before moving to the United States. She is a seventh semester diagnostic genetic sciences major here at UConn. In addition, Koli is a Difference Makers Scholarship recipient and enjoys traveling, reading, genetic research and religious study. She is part of UConn Empower and the Muslim Student Association. Here is what she said about her experiences as a CAHNR student.

What attracted you to UConn? I originally came to UConn for nursing. However, throughout my journey at UConn, I’ve explored many majors and careers and found diagnostic genetic sciences (DGS) to be the best one for me. I started all of my classes this semester, and, although it is a bit challenging, I am very happy to be doing this.

What is your major, and why did you choose it? I am a diagnostic genetic sciences major. It is a fairly new field that has the potential to improve the lives of billions of individuals. Many diseases we have are genetic. They can be cured by studying the human genome. DGS gives me the opportunity to study, diagnose, prevent and possibly cure such disorders.

My favorite part of DGS is knowing that scientists are actively trying to pursue precision medicine so that practices and medication can be tailored to each individual patient. All human beings are different. If two people are diagnosed with the same type of cancer, both of their bodies will react to the same medication differently because of their different sets of genes. The same medicine may cure one patient, do absolutely nothing to the second or harm the third patient. Precision medicine is customized healthcare, and, eventually, this is what I would like to focus on.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why? I was a tutor at the Q-Center for organic chemistry, biology and logic when I was studying at the West Hartford campus. I really enjoyed the job because every day I helped students with something they didn’t understand. I saw people who put in 110% effort to get an A or a degree. I was more than honored to help them as best as I could.

Name two other experiences that have enriched your studies. I took two trips out of the United States that have made a huge impact on my life. As a member of UConn Empower, 14 of us spent two weeks in A Better World Cameroon orphanage to help and empower children of all ages. We tried to implement long-term initiatives, such as preparing a huge garden and building a small library with over 12 suitcases of books and school materials. We also installed Khan Academy on 14 laptops in order to provide free education to everyone through tutorial videos.

I also took a trip this summer to help out with refugees in Greece with CTAnchor. We were able to supply the refugees with fresh running water, culturally relevant food and clothing and basic healthcare. I’ve read that empathy cannot be learned from lectures and textbooks. If I’m going to be passionate about what I do, I need to spend time with those that are underprivileged. When I see the minimal health care or the lack of resources they have, I don’t want to rest. I still speak to those I’ve gotten close to overseas, and I want to make them proud someday.

What was the biggest challenge in your UConn career? I’ve been working for all four years while being a full time student, which is a challenge. Oftentimes, my jobs prevent me from performing my best in school. But, I built relationships with most of my teachers so that I could alert them if I needed extra time to finish my assignments.

When do you expect to graduate? What then?  I will be graduating in December 2017. I would like to start off by working in a certified genetic lab in Connecticut. Afterwards, I’d prefer to start doing my own research that will lead to finding cures for various genetic illnesses. I want my work to live on and benefit others even after I’m gone.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I’m proud to call myself a Husky. Even though my style of dress can intimidate fellow classmates, I am uplifted when random people smile at me. We’re all part of a bigger picture, and our differences are not enough to divide us at UConn.

This scholarship was so helpful to me. I cannot find the proper words to express my gratitude to the donor. Because I have a religious objection to loans with interest, I think this scholarship is ideal for meeting my needs. I ask God to reward the donor accordingly for the generosity, and I will do what I can on my end to make the donor proud, God willing.

Kira Dineen – Naturally Today

Diagnostic genetic sciences major Kira Dineen is a master podcaster who has a weekly WHUS radio show called DNA Today. For four years, Dineen, a Brookfield resident and seventh semester senior, has talked about exploring the field of genetics through this show and a related website. Here is what she said about her experiences as a CAHNR allied health student.

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  

Ester Wasserman – Naturally

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

By Marlese Lessing

Cornucopia of Cool

UCONN’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources held its annual Cornucopia event on October 1st 2016. The day was a huge success for both the college and DGS! While families, students, and members of the community enjoyed the Cornucopia scavenger hunt, toured the UCONN forest, and enjoyed countless other activities the day had to offer the DGS team was hard at work promoting family history awareness.

At the DGS booth, Taylor Couture and Andrew Galinsky (DGS seniors) advocated the importance of family history making sure to emphasize the need to reach out to family members and discuss family health concerns. With the recent advances in pharmacogenomics and personalized medicine, treatment options for hereditary diseases have improved drastically. Knowing ones family history allows patients to be treated more efficiently and effectively, and thus a HELPFUL tool when promoting human health and wellness.  DGS Alumna Liz Tomasco stopped by to say hello.