McKenna Smith

Name: McKenna SmithMcKenna Smith

College:  UC Santa Cruz, Crown College

Department:  Microbiology & Environmental Toxicology

What Award/ Scholarship did you receive?  Keeley Coastal Scholars Award

What year do you expect to graduate? 2024

Where do you call home? My hometown is Los Altos, CA but I moved all over the place while I was growing up. Right now, I live in Scotts Valley but 'home’ is wherever I'm with the people I care about.

With all of the choices for college, what made UC Santa Cruz stand out?  I have always had a love for Marine Biology which is what initially drew me to UCSC but, I knew when I went to college I didn’t want to give up my interest in so many other subjects within the biological sciences. I am so grateful that UCSC offered opportunities in so many different areas that I can pursue regardless of my major.

What is your field of focus? I am currently pursuing a double major in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Marine Biology. I’m currently working with Professor Weiss to study mercury contamination in local watersheds. I’m also working within the School of Engineering to participate in the annual synthetic biology competition, iGEM.

What do you hope to do once you graduate from UC Santa Cruz?  I’m hoping to get a PhD which can combine the different areas of science I am interested in and eventually conduct research at a university.

What is one memorable moment that stands out for you as a student here? Given that I started my college experience completely virtually, one of the most memorable experiences I have on campus was first time I stepped into a college laboratory. One of the first in-person classes I took was part of the college scholars program, BME 122H. The entire class was absolutely incredible and exposed me to so many new opportunities and subjects I would have had no idea about. As part of that class, we went on a field survey to the Salt Flats to collect samples of virions and brought them back to our laboratory to filter, sequence and identify the halophiles living in the sample. The whole experience inspired and opened me up to a new world of opportunities on campus and career paths.

What is your one piece of advice for incoming students about life at UC Santa Cruz? My best advice for future UCSC students is: you get out of college exactly as much as you put in. It can be a really intimidating experience to transition to college but learning how to advocate for yourself and ask for what you want is the most valuable skill you can learn! Don’t be afraid to reach out, apply for, contact any professor who’s research you are interested in and see how you can be apart of it. Even if you don’t get the answer you want or get into the program you are hoping for, sometimes changing your focus can be the best way to discover something you are even more passionate about.

How will this scholarship impact your academic life /research?  This scholarship has already given me a phenomenal opportunity to participate in the grant application and experimental design process. I have already worked with Professor Peter Weiss to write and develop the method and description for this project and I am so excited to be able to complete this project with the support of the Keeley Scholarship. I am looking forward to working with and learning from Professor Eve-Lyn Hinckley at University of Colorado - Boulder as well as the graduate students supporting the project.

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