Bard College at Simon's Rock: the Early College

Preparing for a Career in STEM

Maria Presti

Biomedical Researcher

Maria Presti ’12 is on her way to becoming a formidable young scientist. The Auburndale, MA, native recently graduated magna cum laude with a BA degree in Chemistry. The idea for her thesis, "One Question, Two Approaches; An Examination of the Role of Myosin 1e on Focal Adhesion Dynamics in Podocytes," originated during her Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) at SUNY. When we caught up with her recently, she shared her experiences as a fellow and answered a few questions about Simon’s Rock, and her plans as a postgraduate.

MP closeHow did you end up at Simon’s Rock?

Like most Rockers, I came to Simon’s Rock because high school wasn’t challenging enough or a right fit for me. In the 10th grade, we took a practice ACT exam as part of standardized testing. I put my email down on the bottom, thinking “why not?”. I ended up scoring well. Emails started coming in and one caught my attention, “Go to college after the 10th or 11th grade!” Feeling bored and out of place in my school environment, I decided to ask my mother if I could apply.

When did you first know you were interested in biomedical research?

When I was three years old, I knew I wanted to help heal people. At the time, my mind associated that with being a doctor. As I grew, my love for science and mathematics grew with me. I remember my parents getting me a microscope set and how excited I was to look at a snowflake (which quickly became a dirty droplet of water on the slide) at high magnification. I would constantly ask questions and try finding the answer.

How did you get hooked on biomedical research?

I love puzzles. Figuring out how the tiniest of things fit and work together to function in a larger system has always captivated me. What better way to solve puzzles and help others than biomedical research? I want to figure out why a single point mutation in a gene in a protein, or a small part of a working cell, can lead to disease or organ failure and then discover how to prevent the error from occurring or fix the existing problem so others do not have to suffer in the future.

If learning about how wires send electric currents or how certain compounds are different colors in different temperatures doesn’t sound absolutely exciting to you, you are not a chemistry major.

Any research projects you'd like to share?

I have performed several research projects while at the Rock, mostly as part of labs for classes. These projects range from short and small projects (what wildlife is present in and near lower pond?) to much larger and longer projects (how does this wildlife change as the seasons do?). Last semester, I examined the effects of caffeine on emotional responses in adolescents as part of a group project for animal physiology. The project took about half of the semester and was completely designed by the small group I was in and myself. I also conducted another project with a small(er) group examining caffeine as part of the research methods class.

Over the summer of 2015, I had the honor of working in the SUNY SURF Program. I worked in the Krendel lab studying the role of myosin in kidney functioning. I expanded what I learned and worked on during the fellowship into my senior thesis, a yearlong self-designed project all seniors must complete before graduating. mp lab

Tell us about your favorite professor(s)?

Patty Dooley and David Myers have helped me grow in my love for chemistry and learning, as well as develop into a confident scientist who can express her ideas and question things she does not understand. Each challenges me to be the best I can be and go the extra mile in and outside of the classroom. They are excellent role models, leading by example. Patty is the embodiment of the expression “if you want something done, take action and do it,” and constantly reminds me that I must work hard to accomplish my goals. David reminds me that it is okay to be unsure sometimes and humor is the best way to get stress out when learning advanced chemistry. He constantly reminds me and his organic chemistry students that chemistry is fun.

Where do you expect to be 10 years from now?

I hope to be out of graduate school with a PhD in either organic chemistry, biochemistry, or biomedical research and working in a lab (or finishing a postdoc?) and teaching. I hope to have several publications out by then and maybe a family will be in the picture.

How has Simon’s Rock prepared you for your future?

Simon’s Rock has taught me to:

  • Examine the world around me
  • Question what I do not understand
  • Articulate my ideas and opinions
  • Write about my findings
  • Present my ideas and findings to others
  • Collaborate with others to complete a common goal

(I was trying to come up with a clever acronym, but failed miserably)

What helps you stand out in your chosen field?

Well, I have a BA at 20 years old and, if all goes as planned, I will graduate with a PhD at 25 years old. I participated in a research fellowship program in biomedical research (SUNY SURF) at the age of 19 and am not afraid to ask questions and, more importantly, seek answers. I am a stubborn and determined young woman who won’t listen when people say I cannot accomplish something.

What will you miss most about Great Barrington?

Large cinnamon buns from Gypsy Joint … okay just kidding (although they ARE delicious). I’m really going to miss all the people I have met here. Great Barrington is home to many kind and caring people and countless amazing memories that I am never going to forget.

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