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In the Spotlight
August 25, 2019

In the Spotlight: Jenna Ellington '20, Biology Major

Biology major Jenna Ellington has research in her blood. At least in the lab, where she spent her summer at Brown University, an Ivy League institution in Providence, Rhode Island, as an intern studying diseases related to high blood pressure.

Jenna's summer experience is thanks to The Leadership Alliance, a national consortium of more than 30 leading research and teaching colleges and universities that mentors and trains underrepresented student populations to pursue advanced degrees.

Bay Ridge-native Jenna successfully applied for the Leadership Alliance Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP), a paid research internship program for underrepresented undergraduate scholars that prepares them to earn Ph.D.'s and M.D.'s.

Jenna selected Brown among the institutions offering SR-EIP positions. In July, she presented her summer research at the Leadership Alliance National Symposium in Hartford, Connecticut. She also presented her research at the Brown Summer Research Symposium in August.

While she eventually plans to enroll in medical school, Jenna is focused right now on completing her final year at St. Francis College. She recently spoke about her summer of '19 and the rest of her academic life.

Tell me about your summer internship.

Dr. [Victoria] Ruiz [SFC Assistant Professor of Biology] helped me discover my passion for research, and that's when I applied for the Leadership Alliance.I chose Brown specifically because that is a school I want to attend for medical school. I spent two months there over the summer and I worked alongside experienced faculty.


My research explored... a gene that leads to hematopoietic cell fate during endothelial to hematopoietic transition. [When that's dysfunctional], it can result in high blood pressure characterized by vascular resistance in the lungs. That's an incurable [heart and lung] disease. It's potentially fatal. It's more common in women [than men] and increases with age. Right now, there are only therapeutic drugs, no cure.

How did you originally decide to attend St. Francis College?

My mom and my brother attended St. Francis, so I knew it was a great school and I love the area that it's in. It's [close to] my house. So, I figured that [because] I'm going to have to get a ton of loans for medical school. I'd rather [live at] home and try something affordable [for undergraduate].

Did you come to St. Francis knowing you'd be a biology major?

I knew I wanted to do something with science, however, I didn't know I'd want to go to medical school. What made me want to pursue a career in medicine is [being] diagnosed [with] melanoma, skin cancer. And being that I was young and diagnosed with that disease, I was interested in the genetics, cellular and molecular aspect of cancer.

I want to provide great hospitality to patients like they [my medical team] did for me.

What do you do when you're not involved in your academic work?

I volunteer at an inpatient oncology center in Harlem. I recently started the Doctors Without Borders student chapter here [at St. Francis College], because that is definitely a goal of mine to participate in that. And I figured because I'm not in medical school, I could still help out by creating that club.

And I would also like to start a Scientista [Foundation] student chapter. I recently went to a [Scientista] symposium to present my research. [The organization] specifically encourages women in STEM to achieve their goals.

Is there a professor who has been instrumental in your St. Francis experience?

Dr. Ruiz really has made an impact on my life. A lot of the professors here are great, but she definitely takes time with her students. She's showed me so many options in science. She's made me love research because I've done it with her. She gives me so much advice.

What's next for you after St. Francis?

I'm studying for the MCAT and then once I feel comfortable taking it, I'm going to apply for medical school.

I think I also want to take a year [before med school] where I can do research and travel because it [med school] is going to be [a lot of] dedication and studying.

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