STEM Scholar Studies Stem Cells
Sarah King ’18 (biology; chemistry minor) can name the day when she first discovered her passion for stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.
She was in ninth grade and happened upon the documentary Explorer: How to Build a Beating Heart. “Someone very important to me said the second most important day of your life is the day you are born, and the most important is the day you find out why,” she recalls. “I watched a documentary on the potential of regenerative medicine, and by the time it was done, I realized that was the most important day of my life.”
Her journey hasn’t been an easy one, however. After a semester at Binghamton University, a close family member’s severe illness brought her back home to Freeport, NY. She scraped by as a student at Nassau Community College. Then she lost her job. Facing the possibility of dropping out of college altogether, she found the Bridges to the Baccalaureate program at Purchase.
Funded by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Bridges is a summer internship program in the labs and classrooms of Purchase College for students attending area community colleges. The goal is for students who are typically underrepresented in STEM to obtain research experience and eventually transfer into four-year science programs.
Before her departure for Chicago last June, King spent time guiding the current group of Bridges students. Associate Professor of Psychology Karen Singer Freeman, co-director of the MARC U*STAR Honors Program and associate director of the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Program, lauds King for the impact she’s had. “She’s really stepped into a leadership role. The students in the program this summer appreciate her so much, and she’s such a role model, too.”
King is incredibly grateful for the opportunities she’s had through Bridges and MARC U*STAR. “I like to think everything has come full circle now that I’ve gone to work with the Bridges students. I don’t necessarily have the words to express how I feel towards both programs and all they’ve given me. I feel like I must give back because of that.”
King believes her first summer internship at Purchase working in the lab alongside Elizabeth Middleton, assistant professor of chemistry, was a turning point in her life. After her Bridges experience, King was accepted into the Purchase MARC U*STAR Honors Program for academically talented students from groups underrepresented in STEM.
She transferred to Purchase in 2016 and spent the next two years gaining invaluable experience conducting research in biophysical chemistry with Middleton.
King earned a spot in the very competitive Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) program in the summer of 2017. There she got her first real exposure to regenerative biology.
She’s now enrolled at the University of Chicago to study developmental and regenerative stem cell biology and plans to continue her research in the field of regenerative medicine.
“What I want to do is make stem cell models for disease and for testing medicine,” she says, adding, “I would like to make the use of animals obsolete.” Though King has been vegan for more than seven years, she’s only partly motivated by ethical concerns. Animal testing, she explains, is simply not practical. “Whatever results you get with mice, for example, are not necessarily translatable to humans. All things considered, stem cells are really the way to go in the future.”