Priyanka Vacchani participated in the Plant Biochemistry and Cancer Treatment internship with Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program in 2008. Vacchani's experience with ASE both challenged her and taught her the importance of scientific research. Eight years later, she is a graduate student at the University of California studying global medicine. I met with her to talk about her experience with SA and our ASE program.
Vacchani worked with Sister Angela Hoffman in the chemistry department at the University of Portland. She explored the microbial properties of Oregon plants to see what could inhibit the growth of Pythium, a type of root fungus.
“Reading research papers was overwhelming but served as the push I needed to continue challenging myself in both career development and within my education,” says Vacchani.
She heard about ASE at an informational session at her school and was was nervous to apply. “At the time I was a sophomore in high school. During my interview I had an incredible conversation with my future ASE mentor, Sister Hoffman. The conversation with her went an hour over and she was worried that my parents would wonder where I was. When I got the call saying I got the internship, I remember being super excited.”
Her experience was impactful. “A memory that comes to mind is how I learned how to use intimidating equipment. This came in handy for both biochemistry and chemistry later on during my education at University of California. I also have had the pleasure of maintaining friendships with other ASE interns and also Sister Hoffman. A couple years after the internship, we all met up for a reunion lunch. I also enjoyed bringing Sister Hoffman cookies and brownies. We stay in touch and found each other on LinkedIn, which has enabled us to chat. She was such an amazing mentor and really taught me to explore my curiosity.”
Prior to her internship, Vacchani participated in SA classes and camps. Her dad, an engineer and a staunch advocate for science and math education, encouraged her to take classes. LEGO Robotics was a favorite. “We used the big blocks and turned them into robots. I also remember the huge benefit of taking the Medicine up Close class. I took this after I completed my internship. It was a help to me because I learned how to suture and used this skill later in my education at OHSU.”
Her passion for encouraging women in science and technology led her to volunteer at SA’s summer camp titled, AWSEM Camp: Engineering for Girls, where girls explore a future career in science or engineering.
Her experience with ASE provided an extra boost to her college application process, “ASE really gave me a leg up. I applied to Cornell and got in because I had actual lab experience. Summer at Cornell was really instrumental for my educational career. The research I did while I was there got published. This paper was really helpful to me because with both a publication and lab experience I became a more competitive college candidate.”
To any student that's interested but intimidated, Vacchini says, “Do it. Apply. It is important to consider closely that what you think you want might not be what you want to do later on. SA opened so many doors and it helped me figure out what I enjoy and what I don’t enjoy. My ASE internship was a challenge that year in high school but was totally worth the time and effort. I really wish everyone had the opportunity to experience ASE.”