PLTW Alum Reflects on Summer Opportunities in High School That Kept Her Engaged in STEM

Jessica Sanchez is a PLTW alumna who recently earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular, cellular, and developmental biology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She will begin the Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University this fall, studying cellular and molecular medicine.

I was first introduced to PLTW in middle school when they told us that the high school offers PLTW Engineering and PLTW Biomedical Science. I took all four courses from the PLTW Biomedical Science program – Principles of Biomedical Science, Human Body Systems, Medical Interventions, and Biomedical Innovation. At the end of the classes, we were also eligible to apply for an internship that allowed us to volunteer at our local hospital.

PLTW helped set a foundation that helped me obtain opportunities and build a strong resume earlier than most students. Finishing high school, I had developed so many useful skills and had already interned at a hospital and had two research internships because of the opportunities brought to me by my PLTW teachers.

I pursued these experiences during the summer, which kept me engaged with STEM while simultaneously boosting my resume. My first summer experience and one of my favorites was doing medical research at University California, Davis as a high school student. I had the amazing opportunity to apply to a research scholar award that was brought to my attention by my former PLTW teacher. I learned a lot of science that was not taught to me until I got into college, which prepared me even more for a research institution such as UCLA. I was also able to go back the following summer due to the connections I made.

Another experience I had during the summer was at UCLA after I started my undergraduate career. I applied to a program that provides professional development for underrepresented students while funding the students to conduct research. In this program, I was able to continue my undergraduate research working with stem cells and learn a lot more about Ph.D. and M.D./Ph.D. programs. This program helped refine my CV, edit personal and research statements, and taught me how to write a research paper, all of which significantly prepared me for applying to graduate school.

Last but not least, I had the opportunity to work at Genentech, a biotech company in San Francisco. I was able to give my CV to their outreach program that looks for interns and was interviewed by one of their scientists. This was also one of my favorite experiences, as I got to learn what industry is like, did cutting edge research, and got to live in one of my favorite cities.

Other than the research experience I had in high school that made me realize my love for science, I was also inspired by the fact that I’m a first-generation college student. I’m the only one in my family who earned a bachelor’s degree, and now I’m pursuing a doctorate – to me that’s both crazy and amazing. It’s amazing that I was able to overcome so many obstacles and accomplish so much.

Being a part of the PLTW program and having such phenomenal teachers absolutely prepared me for college. I remember sitting in one of my first biology courses at UCLA listening to the other students struggle with concepts that I had already been exposed to through PLTW. Another reason that I felt that I was ahead compared to my fellow college classmates was because of the skills I gained through the PLTW courses. My skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity were a lot more developed compared to my classmates.

After finishing my Ph.D., I hope to go into industry to work at a biotech company or even go into consulting. Ultimately my goal is to establish myself as a scientist while simultaneously doing outreach. I would love to give back to underrepresented communities, sharing the opportunities and resources I was given growing up in programs such as PLTW. I would even love to be part of PLTW in some way in my future.

I want current PLTW students and recent high school graduates to know that there are so many programs and internships out there that will allow you to stay engaged in STEM, especially during the summer. You can simply look online for such programs, or you can ask your PLTW teachers, counselors, etc. because the opportunities available are endless. Also, if one opportunity does not work, know that there’s another one already knocking on your door.

PLTW’s blog intends to serve as a forum for ideas and perspectives from across our network. The opinions expressed are those of each guest author.