Sophomore Cager Scores Top Research Internship

A double major in biochemistry and kinesiology who plays basketball spent the summer at Harvard Stem Cell InstituteMg75D1X_6378

Natalie Florescu ’17, a guard on the Westmont women’s basketball team, demonstrates skill on the court and in the classroom as well. During the summer, she participated in cutting-edge research at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI) in Cambridge, Mass. A double major in kinesiology and biochemistry, she was one of 40 students accepted into the prestigious internship from about 1,200 applicants—and one of the few sophomores.

“The experience was very rewarding and unlike any other work I have done,” she said. “In addition to the newly acquired scientific skill set, I have learned the importance of bouncing ideas off of fellow lab members. The input and discussion from the team can help make experiments more efficient.

“Overall I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for research—how much time and patience goes into it, all in an effort to find new answers,” she says.

Based on her interests, the institute assigned Natalie to the Brigham and Women’s Hospital laboratory focusing her research on myeloproliferative neoplasms, rare diseases of the bone marrow that cause an overproduction of blood cells. She investigated how a mutation in blood stem cells may induce the disease.

“We’re trying to learn as much as we can about this gene, which was just discovered about a year ago,” she says. “Essentially any information we gathered was very helpful.”

After her 10-week internship in Cambridge, the Mullally Lab invited Natalie to return and work next summer.

“They took the time to explain the concepts, the experiment and what the results meant,” she says. “I definitely learned more about blood cancer and genes, where one small mutation can essentially turn cancer on. I had wanted to go into the trauma surgery field, but after the research that I’ve done in the lab, I’m considering a career more focused on cancer.”

Natalie first heard about Westmont when coaches began recruiting her at Harvard-Westlake School. In Encino, Calif., she was twice a first-team, all-league selection, leading the squad to a CIF Division IV Championship, CIF Division IV State Championship and a CIF Division II runner-up.

The four-year honor roll student considered offers from UC San Diego, New York University and Loyola Marymount University before committing to Westmont.

“The sense of community here was great,” she says. “On my official visit, I felt welcomed by the team and everyone was caring, which was something very different from my other teams. Westmont has this huge sense of family from the coaches, assistant coaches, the team, the players’ families and our Adopt-a-Warrior parents. You feel like this is home.”

When she is not on the court, Natalie works in the training room for Maria Rivera, Westmont head athletic trainer. “Maria is a great mentor and has taught me so much, whether it’s different tape jobs or talking about surgery,” Natalie says. “She is kind of a medical junkie like I am. I learn practical information, but it’s also fulfilling to see an athlete come off rehabilitation and succeed again while you’re with them every step of the journey.”

She has also been fundraising with fellow basketball players Karlie Storkson and Lauren Sende for the team’s upcoming service trip to Africa in August 2015. “It’s been a lot of work planning different events, sending support letters, designing and selling T-shirts to raise funds for the trip,” she says.

Entering her second semester at Westmont, Natalie says her largest lesson has been better management of her time. “Between double majoring, being on the team—which is a full-time job because we put so many hours in at the gym, weight room and film—and working in the training room, I’ve had to pay attention to when I need to sit down and do homework, study and sleep, even if it means sacrificing social time.”

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