Utilizing a background in physics to create imaging and therapeutic solutions for cancer

“At Mount Holyoke, I learned that wherever I am, if I have passion for what I’m doing, I have the power to foster the things I care about most.”

Hometown: Miami, Florida

Academics: physics major

Campus involvement: The main role I hold on campus is that of an ambassador. As a Posse Foundation Scholar, I represent part of a group that empathizes across borders of experience to change the communities to which we belong. As a senior community advisor in the Office of Residential Life, I stand at the forefront of conflict management as I model healthy living in the Living-Learning Communities. As a liaison to the physics department, I am a critical link to the department in terms of planning events and relaying curricular information about the major as I orient potential majors.

A place or experience you will miss at Mount Holyoke: The physics lounge — a fully furnished home to me and my friends for the past four years — is definitely the spot I will miss most on campus! The structure of the physics department is such that the lounge, with its couches, daily candy supply and cardboard cutout of Albert Einstein, is directly connected to the professors’ offices. This department is definitely the most family-oriented and close-knit you’ll ever find in undergraduate physics across the U.S. I’ll never forget the times when Alexi Arango, associate professor in physics, would hang out with us over a cup of tea at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights, helping us through grueling homework due on Monday.

Proudest accomplishment at Mount Holyoke: There is a very special concept I internalized while at Mount Holyoke that I consider my proudest accomplishment. When I first arrived, I felt like I was missing out on the prestige of being part of an Ivy League community, where I had planned to become an engineer. Then, Posse empowered me to transcend the barrier to a college education. At Mount Holyoke, I learned that wherever I am, if I have passion for what I’m doing, I have the power to foster the things I care about most. We all have the ability within ourselves to grow and deliver our passions into measurable outcomes with the right environment. Unexpectedly, Mount Holyoke was that place for me.

How a close connection with a faculty member has shaped you: My closest faculty connection on campus is admittedly the most unsuspected. Whether it’s arguing over which Led Zeppelin album takes home the gold or contemplating how to distinguish between the world’s truth versus the millions of validated human experiences happening simultaneously, Professor Jim Hartley, the chair of the economics department, has been my conversation partner through it all. Our relationship has expanded the bounds of my wisdom, perception and ability to feel confident in my truth and how I carry myself in this global community.

Course that surprised you, or that you thought you might not like: The deeper I dove into the physics major, the more curious and faithful I became in the spiritual side of the universe. I’ve taken a few religion courses in Islam and Buddhism that have genuinely shaped how I see the world, and especially how I act toward myself and others in everyday life. The Five College course offerings in religion are exceptional. Having the opportunity to tackle some deep existential questions with folks from other institutions has been extremely beneficial to my growth. I would like to give a special mention to Tariq Jaffer, the chair of religion at Amherst College, who has led amazing discourse in Quranic commentaries and Islamic mysticism.

Best takeaway from internship or research experiences: My most significant undergraduate research experience was the one that determined my plans after Mount Holyoke. I had always been interested in pursuing a career centered around designing biomedical solutions for cancer. In Teresa Herd’s medical physics research lab I discovered that I could utilize a background in physics to create imaging and therapeutic solutions for cancer. Taking away a long-term goal from a research lab is definitely a marker for me.

I’ve also realized the importance of learning what you don’t want by undertaking internship opportunities outside of your scope of interest. I was a summer analyst at a financial institution, where I was told that my social skills would go a long way in managing client relationships. I am thankful to have spent a summer in a place where I honed key analytical skills while also discovering that such a career was not what I was looking for in life.

How Mount Holyoke has shaped your global outlook: Mount Holyoke draws the invariably smart and engaging ambassadors from all over. I have been so fortunate to be more in touch with the world events not covered by mass American media, via my colleagues in the classroom and neighbors in the residence halls. I have learned to trust in the narratives of families and pioneers to new lands more than the timeline of events constructed by textbooks, which  oftentimes miss key details at the expense of a single storyteller. This notion has even brought me back to explore my own family history and understand my background as a Venezuelan woman with Timoto-Cuican and Jewish Hungarian ancestry.

Future plans: I have committed to pursuing a Ph.D. in medical physics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences! My intended outcome is to become a clinical therapeutic physicist certified by the American Board of Radiology. I hope to find myself serving patients in holistic cancer management at a community or academic hospital, especially contributing to literacy and self-determination in health care.