by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson
After making a big impression as a summer intern, Sammy Garcia ’23 joined several Dickinson grads over the years as she earned a coveted job as a research associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. As she settled into her promising new role, this brand-new Dickinson grad paused to share her story.
The first member of her family to attend college, Garcia grew up in Los Angeles and earned a scholarship to Dickinson. She declared a major in biochemistry & molecular biology, got involved through Wheel & Chain and worked as a resident advisor, housing & apartment student manager, teaching assistant and quantitative reasoning associate for an organic chemistry lab. Through Dickinson’s Community Service Aid initiative, she also partnered with the Department of Public Safety to improve communications with students and help foster a feeling of safety on campus.
Garcia's first experience with original scientific research was a student-faculty project with Assistant Professor of Chemistry Colin Rathbun, investigating new bioluminescent sensors for monitoring intracellular interactions. That inspired her to pursue a research career. Interdisciplinary cancer research with Associate Professor of Biology Mike Roberts followed, providing a more direct link between discovery and treatment.
Last year, these experiences helped her earn a high-level, neuroscience-focused summer internship with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard's Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research. She was one of the only interns to go to the Broad that summer from a liberal-arts institution. And she would soon distinguish herself through her work as well.
Over the course of nine weeks, Garcia researched how to build new technology to identify individual synapses in the brain and their connections at a single-cell resolution. As Garcia explains, both synapse and gene expression dysregulation underlie many central nervous system disorders. Understanding how neurons connect in a healthy individual helps scientists understand what synapses are changed in disease. At the close of the internship, Garcia was recognized by the institute as one of the only interns to produce publishable data that summer.
“I felt a big sense of pride, representing Dickinson during my final presentation and poster session,” she says.
Now, as a research associate at the Broad Institute, Garcia builds on that work, as she assists with creating this new technology. She intends to ultimately pursue a Ph.D.
Soon after her arrival at the Broad, Garcia met with new colleague Liam Stenson Ortiz ’19, a fellow former Dickinson biochemistry & molecular biology major and scholarship awardee who had also conducted original research as an undergrad. "I was extremely happy to hear she was here at the Broad, and I let her know that I could help if she needed anything," says Ortiz. "I could tell the moment I met her that she is very talented and passionate about her work."
Garcia credits her time in the Dickinson lab with helping to prepare her for her building career, molding her into the scientist and global citizen she is today. She’s also grateful for the scholarship that made her education possible.
“The scholarship means the world to me—I don’t think I would be where I am today without it,” she says. “I feel so blessed that I can apply what I learned at Dickinson to my day-to-day life.”
Published August 31, 2023