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Millsaps Offers Singular Science Experience for International Student

by Web on September 12, 2018

Catherine Zhang knew she wanted to attend Millsaps College after she sat in on a biology class and the professor welcomed her numerous questions.

“I met Dr. Sabrice Guerrier, assistant professor of biology,” she said. “What surprised me was that he got equally excited and curious about the questions I was asking! It was an amazing experience to have a professor invite me for lunch to talk about the latest research to shed light on my curiosities.

“I knew then that I would be encouraged to explore, think, and challenge myself here at Millsaps. I have certainly not been disappointed.”

A native of Singapore, Zhang visited Millsaps while on a backpacking trip across the U.S. “I dropped by other universities out of curiosity and none were quite like Millsaps,” she said.

Zhang, a junior who is majoring in biology, aspires to become a medical scientist. After graduation, she plans to enroll in an M.D.-Ph.D. program.

“I want to conduct research for population health advancement while actively engaging with patients so I can keep abreast of disease trends,” she said. “The reason I’ve become so interested in population health stems from the health disparity I’ve seen in Mississippi.”

As an undergraduate, Zhang has already had opportunities to learn more about population health and to conduct research.

On campus, she has worked with Dr. Elizabeth A. Hussa, assistant professor of biology, on her research about the way microbes interact with a wide variety of other organisms. Zhang spent the past summer conducting research at the Perelman Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused on investigating the signaling involved in gut stem cell differentiation.

Zhang has also worked as an intern at a local HIV healthcare clinic, an enlightening opportunity that opened her eyes to the challenges that many underprivileged communities face.

“I have had the chance to adopt a different angle to view poverty, discrimination, homophobia, and other taboo topics that many places might try to avoid and keep under wraps,” she said. “I feel that not only am I improving academically, but I’m learning how to formulate my outlook and unique opinion on society and many humanitarian issues.”

As a member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, a health pre-professional honor society for which she serves as secretary, Zhang coordinated training with healthcare professionals from the University of Mississippi Medical Center for members of the society to become certified health advocates and health screeners.

“We were trained to take blood sugar levels, blood pressure, BMI, and were imparted with knowledge on nutrition so that we could catch diabetes, hypertension, and obesity in their early stages and refer members of the community to trained healthcare professionals for further treatment.

“I believed that with these skills, not only will the Jackson community be better prepared to combat these population diseases, but I also hoped that the members could bring this knowledge back to the communities in their home states that need this care and build up the community support there. I believe that collectively, we could be the driving force in improving accessibility of basic healthcare.”

Thanks to numerous lectures she attended at UMMC, Zhang has met several physicians who work to improve healthcare in Jackson, including Dr. Leandro Mena, who operates Open Arms healthcare clinic, and Dr. Charles C. Chima, who has formulated a formulating a model framework to survey and treat diabetes.

A pro at time management, Zhang serves as vice president of the student body and is involved in numerous organizations on campus. She has served as vice president in charge of finance of Delta Delta Delta, president of the International Student Organization, and president of Phi Eta Sigma freshman honorary.

A member of Beta Beta Beta biology honorary, Zhang has worked as a teaching assistant and as a Mellon Writing Fellow in the biology department. She is a Ford fellow for the genetics class taught by Dr. Sarah Lea Anglin, professor of biology.

Zhang was a member of the 2017-2018 inaugural cohort of students in the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations International Perspectives Program. Students enrolled in the program participated in a living/learning community and, that year, studied climate change and presented a campus-wide conference on the topic.

Zhang’s research focused on the impact of climate change on Singapore.

“Singapore is an island state, and is therefore very vulnerable to submersion,” she said. “Not only that, it depends on the surrounding ocean for a huge portion of our seafood. With rising temperatures, more fishes die or migrate to colder waters, which threatens the country’s food security and also results in catastrophic biodiversity loss.”

One of her favorite classes at Millsaps has also been one of the most demanding: molecular cell biology taught by Guerrier.

“It was challenging, but at the same time, the challenge was exhilarating and fun,” she said.