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Class of 2023: Sarah Aleman

Molecular Biology major Sarah Aleman’s first research experience was with Professor Susan Parrish, and it sparked her love for scientific exploration. After embracing her inner “biology nerd,” Sarah participated in the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program, which resulted in her capstone on genetics. After Commencement, she’ll be in a post-baccalaureate position at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Sarah Aleman - class of 2023

Sarah Aleman is a Biology major specializing in Molecular Biology from Millsboro, Delaware.

When I took my first step on the Hill, I was: A pre-med student who believed the only path to success was to become a physician.

The me who will ring the Old Main bell on Commencement Day is: An empowered scientist striving toward a Ph.D.

Real world experiences: I never had the chance to study abroad (COVID!), but I did have some amazing research experiences. My first research experience was with Dr. Susan Parrish in the Biology department (alongside Class of 2022 featured senior Hyosik Kim!). I was also able to have an off-campus research experience at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. There, I did the research I will be presenting for my senior capstone.

My aha moment: Learning that I wasn’t a pre-med student (nothing against being pre-med, of course). When I took RNA Biology my freshman year, I realized that the idea of treating a patient did not spark nearly as much joy in me as the idea of learning more and more about molecules, development, and genetics. I learned to fully embrace the biology nerd that I am!

Footprints I’m leaving on the Hill: I would definitely like to be remembered through the students I’ve helped teach as a classroom assistant, as well as a connection for students to turn to in the future.

Faculty or staff member who most influenced who I have become: All of my professors have influenced who I am now as a graduating senior. However, Dr. Susan Parrish, Dr. Caitlin Pozmanter, and Kyle Engler have had a huge impact on me. Dr. Parrish and Dr. Pozmanter have empowered me throughout my Biology education, always encouraging me to keep going and allowing me to explore my interests. Kyle Engler has been emotional support over my four years, always reminding me to take care of myself and seek out my passions confidently. Without them, I could not have utilized my resources the way I have, nor discovered myself in academia.

Best class ever: Probably The Hero’s Journey with Dr. Mazerhoff. This class has been so fun, informative, and enriching. Learning about different schools of thought, archetypes, and analysis has allowed me to view some of my favorite fiction and nonfiction works as well as day-to-day life in a whole new way.

As far as Biology classes go, however, that would have to be Advanced Molecular Genetics with Dr. Parrish. I loved learning about more recent studies, techniques, and technologies that are propelling the field of biology forward. Dr. Parrish always made the class challenging yet enjoyable.

Took me totally by surprise: I was really nervous to live with other people, coming into my freshman year. However, I was really surprised to find myself sad to leave my roommates now that I’m graduating. I would definitely classify myself as an introvert, but I didn’t realize how comforting it would be to live with others who are working hard to pursue their goals. You can really only have this same level of support in a college setting.

My favorite spot on campus: Levine Hall! The walk to Levine is always a pleasant one, because I know I’m on my way to an amazing voice lesson. Voice lessons have been a form of therapy for me throughout my time at McDaniel. No matter how stressed or tired I was, I knew I could always walk to Levine and sing my heart out and listen to fun anecdotes with my voice teacher, Kyle Engler.

Most mind-boggling idea I learned at McDaniel: As far as biological concepts go, something that really blew my mind was learning about the concept of epigenetics. Epigenetics looks at how our behaviors and environmental factors can affect gene expression. We usually think about mutations in terms of alterations made to our DNA, but epigenetics is another level of regulation which truly is so interesting to me.

My capstone title: “Creation of an Optogenetically Tagged Polycomb Protein Capable of Inducible Nuclear Export.”

What it’s about in plain talk: I studied a set of proteins that allow cells to become different types — think neurons or muscle cells — as an animal develops. This process begins within the first few hours after fertilization. Thus, in order to study these proteins, we need to be able to manipulate them at such an early stage. No one has been able to do this yet, because these proteins are required for the development of the egg itself inside the mother. My project was to engineer these proteins to be sensitive to light, so that by shining blue light on them, we can disrupt their function after the egg has been laid, but before the differentiation process begins.

Tell us a little about your activities, including sports, during your years at McDaniel: I’ve done a lot at McDaniel over my four years. I am an active member of Beta Beta Beta, a national biology honors society. I am part of the Honors Program, and I am a classroom assistant in the microbiology lab. The first organization I joined was Hispano-Latinx Alliance, where I became the secretary and eventually vice president. I enjoyed being a part of this cultural org and proudly displaying Latinx culture on our campus. Another org I have been involved in is Best Buddies, which I love being a part of! I’m definitely going to miss my buddies when I graduate.

What’s next: I am very excited to begin my post-baccalaureate position at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, working in the Rodriguez Lab. Though before that, I am ready to do some traveling.

If you received financial aid, what did that mean for you and your family? McDaniel wasn't my first choice of schools. I was actually committed elsewhere until they informed me they were unable to give me the financial aid I needed. McDaniel, however, was able to give me enough financial aid. For me, financial aid was the main driver in choosing a college, but I do not regret my choice. I’m so glad I ended up at McDaniel; I would not have had the opportunities I have been so blessed with otherwise.

Are you the first in your immediate family to attend college? What has the experience meant to you? I am a first-generation college student; as graduation approaches this fact has really hit me. I am excited to represent my family and carry their dreams with me as I walk across the stage to accept my diploma. My family’s encouragement has meant so much to me throughout my college experience.

How will you stay connected to McDaniel? I have formed such incredible bonds with my professors, and I’m so sad to leave them! However, I will definitely stay in touch with them to update them on my journey as I pursue a Ph.D. I hope to be an involved alum and stay in contact with all the amazing friends I have made at McDaniel.

About Sarah

Major: Molecular Biology

Class of 2023

"I am a first-generation college student; as graduation approaches this fact has really hit me. I am excited to represent my family and carry their dreams with me as I walk across the stage to accept my diploma."