By Jeff Simpson
Lucy Schlink is a senior this year at Ave Maria University. For the past two summers, Lucy has been interning in the Harvard Medical-MIT lab at Boston Children’s Hospital and she now has plans to pursue her MD and PhD. Lucy didn’t start her college journey at Ave, but her pursuit of a well-rounded wholesome college experience led her here. Hailing from the small town of Stonington, Connecticut, Lucy’s favorite part about Connecticut is the beaches. At Ave, she is majoring in Biochemistry and Physics, and has thoroughly enjoyed her experience with the sciences at Ave Maria.
Lucy transferred to Ave after her freshman year because she was looking for “more of a wholesome college experience.” To Lucy, a “wholesome college experience” included a university with strong morals, a focus on academics and an emphasis on forming relationships. Lucy began her college career at a university designed to produce students ready for medical school after three years of undergraduate studies. A school with such demanding academics was exactly what Lucy wanted as a senior in high school – or so she thought. After a year in a world of intense academic rigor, with little time to focus on anything else, Lucy discovered she craved a more well-rounded experience. “By the end of my freshman year, I realized that I wanted to make close relationships in college, have a fuller college experience, and grow in my faith” said Lucy, and so she decided to transfer to Ave Maria. She says that she could not be happier with her decision, and says that Ave ended up being, “everything I wanted it to be.”
For the past two summers, Lucy has been interning in the Fetal Neonatal Neuro Developmental Science Center (FNNDSC) lab run by Harvard Medical-MIT at Boston Children’s Hospital. There, she works under Dr. P. Ellen Grant doing imaging studies on neonates and fetuses. Although she rotated through many different jobs in the lab, Lucy’s primary focus was working with Near-Infrared Spectroscopy, pre-processing neonatal MRIs. In addition to working in the lab, Lucy shadowed many world-renown physicians including Dr. Mark Kieran, the director of pediatric neuro-oncology at Boston Children’s and Dr. Benjamin Warf, a well-known pediatric neurosurgeon who Lucy refers to as the “hydrocephalus guru of the U.S.” Lucy watched Dr. Warf perform the ETV/CPC procedure, which he pioneered, and has now become the international standard for treating hydrocephalus. Lucy also completed a week-long rotation in Neurosurgery with Dr. Lilliana Goumnerova, one of the few female neurosurgeons in the world, and a specialist in pediatric brain tumor resection.
Lucy credits her time and experience at Ave as influential on the course of her life and her plans for the future. Lucy says her most impactful experiences at Ave included the undergraduate research she did with Dr. James Peliska and Dr. Tony Barbosa, and taking Dr. Peliska’s HIV class. Lucy realizes that at most universities undergraduates do not truly participate in real research, but rather shadow their professors. Lucy feels very passionately that the professors at AMU are unique – they truly want to help their students. “In comparison to most schools, I think that the professors at AMU are really here to teach you, and I think I have benefitted most from that. At most schools the professors are only there for their own purposes: to do research. Whereas atAMU, I feel like the professors are really here for you, and it has made a huge difference in my education. Having that support and mentorship here is amazing.”
The experiences Lucy has had in the Biochemistry program have inspired her to enter MD/PhD program, specifically a Harvard-MIT MD program called HST (Health Science and Technology), and a PhD called MEMP HST (Medical Engineering and Medical Physics), concentrating in Imaging or Radiation Therapy. Lucy says that if she had not come to Ave, she would not have had these opportunities, “The professors have encouraged me to pursue opportunities beyond just what is available at school, and have helped me to make them a reality.”
In addition to the scholarship experiences Lucy has had at AMU, she credits the Mother Teresa Project and opportunities to form a solid prayer life as huge factors in shaping her life. Meditating on the life of Mother Teresa coupled with her work in The Mother Teresa Project has shaped her interest in Pediatric Oncology. She says that both of these things have helped her to “not only grow in my faith, but made me evaluate what I really want to do in my life. It made me think about who is the poorest of the poor in this field that I am going into, and it made me realize that the kids who I can help the most are oncology kids. That’s something I always thought I was very afraid of, and it was a line of work I never wanted to go into, but through a lot of praying and mediation I have realized that that is the population of kids that I want to work with.”
Along with helping her decide on a field of interest, Lucy credits Ave Maria for giving her a strong prayer life: “Ave showed me how prayer can help you get through hard times, but also strengthen you for the good times.” With Lucy’s field, a strong prayer life is absolutely essential. She has found that pediatric doctors, regardless of their religion, emphasize the importance of having a firm belief and trust in God. Even as a surgeon with someone’s life in your hands, God is always the one who is in control. Lucy loves the faith community at AMU, and says she is careful not to take for granted all of the opportunities to grow in faith, because she knows that post-graduation they will not be as readily available. She sees her time at AMU as a fantastic opportunity to build a sustained faith life through things like daily mass, perpetual adoration and volunteering.
After graduating this spring, Lucy plans to take the MCAT, and head back to Boston to resume work as a research assistant. She will be applying to a bioethics master’s program at Harvard Medical, which she will complete while working in the lab. After finishing her Master’s, she will begin her MD/PhD program. Despite these commitments, she will find time to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity in Boston. Lucy credits Ave for pushing her to seize opportunities, and for shaping her plans for the future. She says that she is, “truly in debt to the university,” and will never forget the impact which Ave has had on her.