Student Spotlight: Vanessa Raab C’21

Vanessa Raab C’21                                  

What attracted you to Drew?

I wanted to come to Drew because I wanted to attend a college that supports student research and diversity. As a career, I was not sure if I wanted to conduct biology research and I knew that with Drew’s many opportunities to do research as an undergraduate student, I could find out. Diversity was also especially important to me. My high school was 97% white, and I really wanted to meet people of different backgrounds, nationalities, and walks of life.

Why did you major in Biology?

In my Freshman year, I heard that the bacteria living in the human gut could influence psychological health. I was suspicious of this and was determined to prove it wrong. After some focus on the subject for a class research project, I discovered it was true and that I loved the subject. From there, I fell in love with microbiology and bacteria. This caused me to change my major from Neuroscience to Biology so I could focus on learning about bacteria.

Did you have an idea of a dream job when you started at Drew?

My dream job was to be a Neuroscience researcher, trying to uncover the mysteries of the brain. Since then, I have found new loves and passions to pursue as a career.

Have you done any internships?

I participated in the Drew Summer Science Institute (DSSI) in the summer after my sophomore year. As a research student, I worked full time in Dr. Connor’s Microbiology lab in the RISE department. My research started with and has continued to focus on antibiotic production by bacteria, genetic sequencing, and bacterial strain improvement.

Do you have any mentors at Drew?

I have had two great mentors at Drew, Dr. Neal Connors and Dr. John Perkins. Both have been my research mentors from the RISE program. They have given me guidance on research, classes, and my future career. As a first gen student, trying to figure out college and where it will take me has been difficult. With their help, I have mentors to help give me advice about interviews, grad schools, and job opportunities.

What issue in the world means the most to you?

One issue that I have been reminded of throughout the pandemic is the problem of people failing to acknowledge that they hold weight in the world. Whatever movement or issue you want to support or address, to really make a difference, you must take it upon yourself to step up to be a part of it. I have heard so many people wanting change but feeling that they are too small to make a difference. Any small change is still making a difference, and anyone can make a change. I think people need to have more faith in their ability to make a difference if they choose to take the chance.

What are a few of your favorite memories of Drew? 

My favorite memories of Drew always involve my best friends, who I met in my first year at Drew. We became friends because we lived in the same hallway and we have stuck together ever since. From late night walks into town to C store runs for movies night, we always spend time together in our four years at Drew. Some of my favorite memories have been in the Hoyt lounge. On Monday nights, my friends and I would get together to watch funny movies. That is where I also learned to play Dungeons and Dragons. With the pandemic, I miss those kinds of get togethers the most.

How has your identity as a First-Generation college student and your invisible disability played a role in your journey at Drew?

My parents never had the opportunity to pursue education past high school. Their whole lives, they have worked incredibly hard so that their kids could have the opportunity to go to college. As a first-generation student, I do not have others in my family that can help guide me in what higher education means. Thanks to the help of classmates and mentors at Drew, I had guidance in a tricky part of navigating university and classes.

For many years I have struggled with an invisible disability. Drew was the first opportunity I had to get treatment. Since my Freshman year, I have gone through the process of diagnosis, misdiagnosis, treatments, therapy, and learning stability. It has been incredibly difficult and has affected my work in classes. It also makes me feel separated from classmates. Luckily, I still had the services offered at Drew to help accommodate for my struggles.

What advice would you give students who are just starting out that you wish you had when you started?

If you want to get involved with something, whether it be lab research, club events, or civic engagement, the best thing to do is to introduce yourself. It may mean walking through an open office door or emailing someone you met at an event, and it may be hard to do, but it is worth it. The best thing to do to move forward with your interests is to take those first steps to make a connection with someone else.

What are your career goals? Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

After I graduate in May, I will begin working as a molecular biologist at a small biotech company near my hometown.  It is a good opportunity for me to learn more about the industry, see manufacturing, and to work full time in a lab. After maybe a year or two, I want to apply to Ph.D. programs for Biomedical Science. With that kind of degree, I will pursue a career in what I am passionate about, which is research on the microbiome and inflammation. In five years, I hope to be working through a dissertation and to be conducting research that makes me excited to go into work every day.

Are there any fun facts you would like to share?

●      Growing up, I often traveled with my family because my dad was a monster truck driver.

●      I love dogs and have learned to train them by working with many professional trainers. Years ago, I also used to do agility with my sheltie.

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