When people ask me what I did last summer, I always like to start the conversation with “Well, I was a part-time organ farmer.” While this may sound a little strange, it accurately sums up the research that I was able to do—largely because of St. Lawrence’s Internship Fellowship Program.
I had recently moved back to Colorado Springs, my hometown, for the summer of 2021 when I was offered a research assistant position at the University of Colorado in Boulder (CU Boulder) within the biological and chemical engineering department. While this was a great opportunity, I knew that there was no way that I was going to be able to live at home if I wanted to take this chance. That same day, I received a monthly newsletter from the Center of Career Excellence with the headline: “Apply now for the Internship Fellowship Program!”. In that moment, I knew I had to apply, and that application changed the trajectory of my summer.
The Internship Fellowship program is made possible thanks to funding from generous alumni donors. The program helps St. Lawrence students alleviate the financial burden of pursuing unpaid or underpaid internships and manage the costs of living in different cities. My fellowship helped cover my living expenses in Boulder which allowed me to focus on my work and get a truly immersive and unparalleled research experience.
Like I mentioned, part of that experience was growing mini organs. I helped develop a disease model using a hydrogel system to investigate intestinal growth and development in an environment that resembled Crohn’s disease, a chronic condition causing inflammation of the digestive tract. In modeling Crohn’s disease outside of the body, the goal is to better understand cell interactions with the extracellular membrane in a safe and more controlled environment. This can be achieved using intestinal "organoids" which have the same properties as normal intestines, but grow faster and are much smaller. These are derived from intestinal stem cells which I used to grow mini intestines on the hydrogel system we developed.
As a biophysics major, I have always been interested in how physical properties drive biological systems and this project gave me the opportunity to explore that further. Working with stem cells and applying these concepts was eye-opening to me; it gave me the chance help solve real-world problems using things I have learned in the classroom.
This was one of my first real research experiences outside of my laboratory classes at St. Lawrence. I not only learned a ton of new skills, but I realized how much I enjoy research—a passion I’ve brought back to my studies. As I progress through my junior year and look ahead to my senior year, I am getting involved in more research on campus as well as looking into graduate school as a feasible option after St. Lawrence. Before this summer, I had no clue what I wanted to do—only a few interests I was looking to explore. Thanks to the generosity of St. Lawrence alumni and the help of the Center for Career Excellence, I was able to pursue bioengineering research and contribute towards the hunt for a cure in the process!