Hometown: Stony Point, NY
“I enjoyed math and science as early as elementary school. By high school, I knew I wanted a career in science so I could help people. I want to find a cure for cancer.”
Courtney Tello chose St. Thomas Aquinas College because of the breadth and depth of research opportunities in science. She enrolled in the medical technology program as a freshman, but she changed her mind—and her major—by the beginning of her sophomore year.
“The summer after freshman year, I shadowed medical technicians at Nyack Hospital,” Courtney says. “It confirmed for me that I want to be in a lab, but medical technology felt too routine. Medical technicians are heroes, but I wanted more.”
So Courtney set her sights on biochemistry with an eye toward cancer research. She took a position as a research assistant in the clinical science lab with her biology professor, Dr. Clara Tóth. There, she assisted Dr. Tóth with breast cancer research.
Then Courtney’s academic advisor told her about a prestigious opportunity called Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) and encouraged her to apply.
“If I’m thinking of a career in research, this will be a great way to find out if it’s what I really want to do,” Courtney says.
The summer before her junior year, she completed a 10-week research program in molecular biosciences at Colorado State University. The program, funded in part by the National Science Foundation, offers undergraduates from around the country the opportunity to conduct research in biochemistry and molecular biology.
In Summer 2017, Courtney participated in another 10-week REU experience. This time at Clemson University, focusing on Genetic Research. As part of the program she worked on a research project as well as participating in professional-development workshops with other students from the REU on campus.
"These workshops provide students with relevant information concerning being a professional scientist and included how to give a talk or poster presentation about our research and how to find graduate schools to apply for," says Courtney. "These experiences are important. Like me, you might think you know what you want to do in life, but you never really know until you experience it."
And although she says it’s too early to be certain, she thinks she would like to earn her master’s degree and Ph.D. and ultimately pursue a career in genetics.
Courtney enrolled in the Aquinas Leaders Program at the College upon acceptance in her freshmen year.
"We've been the beneficiary of a very motivated student who jumped at the opportunity to gain valuable experience in her chosen field, " said Vin Crapanzano, Dean for Student Success at the College. "We strive to motivate students to gain practical experience well before it is time to do an internship. This makes them more valuable as a candidate for an internship, a graduate program, and a career start."