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STEM student aims to solve medical mysteries


Svetlana Morrell

As a double major in biology and psychology with a concentration in biotechnology, Svetlana Morrell '17 of Stillwater, N.Y., ​ wants to research medical mysteries like autism, cancer and diabetes with the expectation that she may discover not only treatments, but cures. 

"I want to be able to help those who have these illnesses and diseases, and give them hope that one day their problems will be solved and they will no longer have to struggle on a daily basis," Morrell said. 

As a high school student, she took engineering-basedclasses at the University of Rochester and Western New England because of her interest in maladies such as autism and dementia. The classes helped Morrell to confirm her desire to understand and explore the human body. 

And, before her college career even started, Morrell participated in MCLA's first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Academy. 

"As an incoming freshman, I had the ability to explore the campus, see North Adams, talk to some of the professors and staff, and meet a few of my incoming classmates," she said. "I was glad I had that opportunity to familiarize myself with MCLA, as well as form some relationships before the start of the school year." 

With her sights set on attending graduate school for biomedical engineering, Morrell began her MCLA career last year as a biology major. This field, she said, helps her to understand how the environment impacts genetics and cells. 

But within her first month as a college freshman, her first psychology class led her to add that field, too, as a second major, after she realized psychology contributed to her understanding of the effects and the impacts various illnesses have on the human body. 

With the addition of a biotechnology concentration, her education plan was complete. 

"Biotechnology is the application technology to the field of biology," Morrell explained. "It's the understanding of how computerized databases are used for research and the development of new devices. 

"A background in biotechnology will be valuable for me because it gives an understanding of how modifications in one's biological makeup - or environment - can affect their way of living." Morrell explained. 

Morrell topped off her freshman year by becoming a STEM fellow. In this role, she helped the next class of students interested in science and math to determine their own paths. 

In addition to her studies, Morrell is a resident area security monitor for the townhouses, plays on MCLA's women's basketball team, and volunteers for the HALF (Health, Athletics, Lifetime, Fitness) Times program to help local middle school students keep active after school. 

"Once a week the students take a bus to MCLA to participate in various informal sports activities," Morrell explained. "With all the new technology and video games available to kids, it is important to keep them engaged in activities which keep them up and moving. Participating in sports not only keeps them healthy, but also prevents them from getting into trouble." 

Her other activities include being on the Student Activities Committee (SAC). This year, she'll continue to volunteer with the STEM Pathways program where she works with middle school students in afterschool lab activities, and she's a peer advisor to 15 freshmen. 

"All these activities help make me part of the MCLA community," Morrell said. "Sports, clubs and volunteering, are all things I have always associated with attending school. There is more to learning than sitting in a class room and listening to a lecture. It is just as important to be able to work as a team, meet new people, help others, interact socially and contribute to the environment around you."