Biology major Kaela Makins ’21 will join a doctoral program at City of Hope National Medical Center after graduation. She talks here about her interest in the medical field, and Hamilton faculty who influenced her.
Tell us about the program you’re going into.
I was accepted into a doctoral program at City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, Calif. [It] is primarily a research institute, [versus] an academic institute, focused on cancer and diabetes research. And even though it’s a research institute, it has a really small graduate school, so that’s the portion I’ll be joining. I fell in love with the program because it focuses on translational science — the pipeline of bench to bedside or bench to community. That basically means that most of the research translates directly to impacting patients and communities.
Was there anything in particular that attracted you to the medical field?
My biochemistry class with (former) Professor Sarah Rosenstein is where I was first exposed to epigenetics. And that’s where I had the opportunity to explore it in the context of racial disparities … she’s the one who actually encouraged me to pursue that and explore that topic throughout my time [at Hamilton]. That’s where I started to kind of see myself forming into this role and into this path.
Have any other professors, classes, or mentors at Hamilton helped to prepare you?
Professor Rosenstein was huge and pivotal in basically getting me interested in the topics of epigenetics and cancer. And then professors Rhea Datta and Max Majireck have been two pillars of support. I was actually able to study epigenetics at a deeper level in their classes, both of which ended in writing mock grant proposals, which was really cool and pretty much solidified my love for research — as that’s pretty much all I’ll be doing. And Professor Wei-Jen Chang, who’s been my research advisor since freshman year, has guided me throughout most of my research at Hamilton and also abroad in Taiwan and China.
Hometown: Miami, Fla.
High School: Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart
Can you talk more about the research you’ve done?
Right now, I’m working on a research project with Professor Datta that I started with a student who graduated last year. … That project is focused on studying lead contamination and how it impacts development and reproduction — how [it] is carried across generations. That’s cool, because it’s something that researchers are working on at City of Hope. There are similarities in that research, but that research is where I’m really exploring epigenetics.
And then my research with Professor Chang — it’s more like a molecular biology focus. It’s kind of abstract, but it focuses on studying the vacuoles inside single-celled organisms … so two very different projects. But I think both are super important for me to figure out what I want to study in grad school, and it definitely helped me see what I’m passionate about.
Are you involved with any extracurriculars at Hamilton?
I co-founded ROOTS, a society for students of color in STEM. This organization was super important for building community among them, helping to prepare them professionally and academically, [and connecting] them with research opportunities, and also just providing a greater sense of belonging for students of color going into STEM. That’s something that I’ve been working with my peers to build throughout the past two years.
What will you miss most about Hamilton?
I’m definitely going to miss ROOTS. I’m going to miss the [students] I’ve been able to make close connections with. And I’m also going to miss the amazing professors who have supported me throughout this whole process. I’m going to miss the Glen … especially coming from Miami, that was something that was not around me at all. So that’s something that I really held on close to when I was at Hamilton, in terms of just trying to clear my mind and get fresh air.