Both Michelle Garcia ’22 and Sayde Perry ’22, who have been awarded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, point to Pomona College faculty as the vital supporting cast in their win of the prestigious $7,500 fellowship for sophomores and juniors who intend to pursue careers in mathematics, the natural sciences or engineering.
Michelle Garcia ’22
A computer science and chemistry double major from Van Nuys, California, Garcia’s current research interests lie at the intersection of computer science, chemistry and biology and her hope is to learn more about computational approaches for understanding biological processes. For example, using simulations to understand protein movement and time-independent computations to understand the underpinnings of a biological phenomenon.
Being a part of the first-generation, low-income (FLI) community was no barrier to opportunities as a Pomona College student. She has participated in research every semester except for her first semester and this last virtual semester. Among her research stints were the City of Hope-Pomona College Summer Research Scholar Program, the WAVE Fellows Program at Caltech, and coming up this summer is pharmaceutical research with Eli Lilly and Company.
Garcia says Professor of Biology Lenny Seligman’s Introduction to Genetics course and Professor of Computer Science Eleanor Birrell’s Introduction to Computer Science in Python course were confidence boosters.
“Professor Seligman gave me my first college research opportunity, and always gave me five-star advice whenever my interest narrowed.”
Professor of Chemistry Matthew Sazinsky was also an ongoing source of encouragement on Garcia’s path toward her career goals, as he allowed her to do an independent study exploring molecular dynamics on a system his lab has been working on.
“I cannot express how grateful I am that Pomona has such a low student-to-faculty ratio. I believe this is one of the key reasons it has been so easy to learn from my peers and professors.”
Garcia also expresses gratitude to the Chemistry Department specifically for its support for their students.
“When I was awarded this scholarship, every chemistry professor that I had taken a course with congratulated me, which was telling of professor commitment to not only teach students but also to deeply care for them.”
Looking ahead, Garcia plans to apply to graduate school in the field of either computational chemistry or bioengineering. Her long-term goal is to work as a staff scientist in industry or lead her own research group in academia.
Sayde Perry ’22
Perry, a molecular biology major who has lived in Massachusetts; Beijing, China; and Santiago, Chile, also points to a professor as a primary influence during her time at Pomona.
“Through my work in her lab and in her classes, Professor [Jane] Liu has opened my eyes to the world of science and has taught me that I can have a place in it. She has pushed me to become the best student and scientist I can be every single day,” says Perry.
Perry began working with Liu the summer after her first year at Pomona and hasn’t stopped since. They study Vibrio cholerae—the bacteria that causes cholera disease. Perry has looked at fructose metabolism and biofilm formation in V. cholerae. But, most recently, she has focused on interactions between V. cholerae and ICP1—a lytic bacteriophage specific to the V. cholerae strain that causes cholera. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect and destroy bacterial cells.
“Studying how ICP1 and V. cholerae interact captivates my imagination as they are often described as being in an ‘arms race’ with each other. The virus and the bacteria have both evolved to possess an array of mechanisms to compete with the other; I have loved trying to parse out some of those mechanisms.”
Perry finds bacteriophages to be especially compelling because they have the potential to be harnessed to treat bacterial infections. This summer, she will be extending her bacteriophage research by interning at a startup biotech company that is using bacteriophages to make a therapeutic against cholera.
Perry says that when she came to Pomona she had no idea these would be the subjects that would interest her. She also didn’t think they were courses she could actually do well in, she says. However, she says the immense support from her chemistry and molecular biology professors shifted her mindset, challenging her to become a better scientist and solidifying her interest in pursuing a research career.
Perry intends to pursue a Ph.D. in the biomedical sciences and is especially interested in the molecular mechanisms and interactions that relate to human health. Her recent work with bacteriophages has her envisioning research that explores potential antimicrobial treatments as alternatives to antibiotics.
“I think of science as a series of stories. They indulge my deep curiosity to find out what is going to happen next and what else will be uncovered.”