Donning lab coats and latex gloves, three Antioch High School graduates are getting real-world experience that could help them launch careers in science.
Now a sophomore at Los Medanos College, Melisa Pina is in the middle of a two-year paid internship at a biotech company and has her sights set on a four-year degree in microbiology or pathology so she can work in cancer research.
“I always find it fascinating,” the 20-year-old Antioch resident said of the field. “You can always keep learning every single day.” She and Brenda Lovo, a fellow member of AHS Class of 2018, both successfully applied for the chance to work at Ensigna Biosystems after steeping themselves in high school science classes.
Pina not only was enrolled in AHS engineering academy but signed up for a two-year certificate in biotechnology after a presentation about the program piqued her interest.
She spent her junior and senior years writing chemical equations, growing fungi, yeast and multiple strains of bacteria, studying them under a microscope, and learning safety protocols.
The teens also prepared for the workplace, learning how to dress professionally, write a resume and network for a job.
From there Pina and Lovo enrolled at LMC to continue what they had started in high school, a program that offered the chance to do more advanced lab work, listen to guest speakers in the science field and get additional hands-on experience at a company.
The pair received an invitation to do an internship in Richmond, where they have been commuting three times a week since January 2018.
When she’s not juggling her regular classes at Los Medanos College, Pina works in the company’s pathology lab checking microscope slides mounted with tissue from mice and cancerous human organs to ensure the two glass halves are properly glued together.
Pina also operates the pathology scanner, photographing the slides and scanning those images into a computer.
In addition, she verifies the slides are properly labeled with the name of the sample and the project to which it’s associated.
All the while, Pina and Lovo are keeping their eye on the prize – transferring to a UC, possibly Davis, in fall 2021.
After that, Lovo hopes to join the Ph.D. track and become a researcher in neuroscience.
“Even though I will spend most of my life in school I know it’s going to be worth it because I’m doing something I like,” she said.
LMC sophomore Aaron Casey calls himself a “big science nerd” who took multiple classes in the subject when he was at Antioch High.
Although the 20-year-old Antioch resident is currently a biology major, he loves the outdoors and feels somewhat constrained in a laboratory setting. So, he’s considering a transfer to the University of Nevada at Reno to pursue a degree in environmental science instead.
Casey is confident the internships he has at two start-ups, which were recently extended to summer 2021, will be a good start toward his goal.
One of the Richmond companies performs tests to see which human proteins interact with various parts of a cell; the other develops drugs that work with cell receptors to reduce pain and inflammation.
“I won’t ever be without a job because … science is always going to be necessary and overall I like helping people,” Casey said.
Content Source: Antioch Unified School District