PLTW Alumnus Spotlight: Jazz Munitz

For nearly 25 years, PLTW has offered transformative classroom and learning experiences for PreK-12 students. Now, many of those students are professionals in STEM fields. We recently reached out to several PLTW alumni to learn more about their educational and career journeys and find out what advice they have for current PLTW students. If you are a PLTW alumnus interested in sharing your story, we’d love to hear from you here.

Jazz Munitz lives in Brooklyn, New York, and works as the Manager of Preclinical Nuclear Imaging, and Associate Researcher for Nano-immunotherapeutics at the BioMedical Engineering and Imaging Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. In high school, Jazz completed the Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and Biomedical Innovations courses in the PLTW Biomedical Science program.

In what grades did you participate in PLTW and what were some of your most memorable experiences from PLTW?

Freshman year of high school, with my scientific proclivities and interests stemming from my love of biology classes I’d taken in elementary and middle school, I was elated to find out that our high school would be participating in the new PLTW program. I immediately signed up for PLTW Biomedical Science and was quickly thrown into a world of knowledge acquisition, both theoretically and practically, that came from our exploration of labs, medical terminology, and dissections. As our courses continued throughout high school, I remember how excited I was to hold a scalpel for the first time, progress through the various dissections, drawing and exploring each organ system and building them on our anatomical model, and trying our hand at interior design and architecture while designing our own optimized emergency rooms.

What did your journey look like to get to where you are today?

After high school, fueled by my newfound confidence and desire to delve deeper into experimental science through the PLTW program, I began participating in the science research program at our high school, which led me to join a nanomedicine lab at Mt. Sinai in NYC. I began designing and testing two of my own nanoparticle based therapies for cancer, which led me to continue my studies after high school at Cornell University, where I majored in Biology and Society (which mixed neuroscience and bioethics), and minored in health policy analysis, and business management for the life sciences. My love of science and bioethics grew and led me to apply to medical school in hopes of training to practice pediatric neurosurgery. Following graduation from college, I rejoined the nanomedicine team at Mt. Sinai, where I have been fortunate enough to participate in studies that have now been published in scientific journals, like Cell, Science, and the American Chemical Society.

What is your current role within your company and what are your responsibilities in this position?

After graduation, I chose to continue my research on the Nanomedicine Team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai. I couldn’t be happier with the decision to return to the facility and people who were so influential in my maturation and scientific education. At first I was intimidated by the offer, where I would be in charge of preclinical imaging, performing surgery and therapeutic study injections in mice, rabbits, and monkeys, and determining our therapies effectiveness using clinical PET/MR and PET/CT machines. However, with the scientific confidence initially instilled through the PLTW program, I had both the hunger to further explore the scientific underpinnings of this research, and the comfort to ask questions constantly, always admitting where gaps in my knowledge were, and yearning to fill them with newfound understanding. Since my return to Mt. Sinai, I have forged paths that let me express my love of science, communication, photography, and videography by taking on positions of Associate Researcher, Manager of Preclinical Nuclear Imaging, and Co-director of Communications. COVID-19 has certainly put roadblocks in our collective human path, but I am proud of my resiliency and thankful for the opportunities that have risen out of this strange time. I have continued working in-person at Mt. Sinai (now draped in PPE), taking charge of animal experimentation as we have quickly adapted one of our nano-immunotherapeutic platforms to COVID-19 models. This is collaboration with the NIAID/NIH and is being tested in nonhuman primates at the NIAID, while production is ramping up in the Netherlands through our PI’s pharmaceutical company. Witnessing the rapid amassing of scientific misinformation during this pandemic, I utilized my new role as a Co-Director of Communications for our institute to acquire podcasting technology, and began ‘ImagingNation’ (available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Youtube), where I host doctors and scientists from Mt. Sinai and collaborating institutes to discuss specific fields of research in a jargon-stripped layman’s fashion so that listeners of all backgrounds can acquire a confidence in the scientific enterprise through their own newfound understanding.

What did you learn in PLTW that still helps you today?

From a practical perspective, the skills of micro pipetting, PCR, gel electrophoresis, dissection, and scientific writing, to name a few, were laced throughout the PLTW program and have proved instrumental in my ability to explore scientific questions every day at Mt. Sinai. This allowed me to begin completing experimentation even at 16 years old when I first entered the intimidating world of academic research. The most crucial skills have been the uniquely ingrained systematic approach to scientific curiosity, which allows me to ask questions of the world around me and admit that which I don’t know. This not only makes me better as a scientific teammate and researcher, but I believe allows for a deeper and more complete understanding of science and forges new research topics. PLTW gave me the tool early on that forge scientific impact and progress from initial curiosity.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I have seen my friends from PLTW flourish in a variety of scientific fields, and anecdotally, we have all shared how the baseline skillset that we acquired throughout the PLTW program gave us a pedestal to begin learning from once we entered our professional scientific spaces.