The Road to Discovery

For as long as he can remember, Ayden Cinel '22 has been curious about how the universe works. He is an avid and passionate learner with a strong interest in science. 

"I've just recently narrowed my interest down from such a broad scope to the biomedical field, which I hope to turn into a career," Ayden says. 

Ayden took a deep academic dive into biomedical building blocks over the summer through a new, virtual and immersive course in modern biology, part of Columbia University's prestigious program for high school students. The course explores the basic elements of molecular biology, genetics, and evolution and how those sciences affect modern medicine, agriculture, and ecology. Summer study began with a review of the structure, function, and synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins; students then applied that knowledge to a range of topics, including modern biological research techniques, genetic engineering, immunology, cancer, and virology. 

"The most interesting part of the program for me was the unit on cancer because it was all brand-new material to me," notes Ayden. "I had never learned about the various treatments used to combat it, the mechanisms through which it emerges in the human body, and the ways it interacts with bodily systems. The unit piqued my interest and sparked a desire within me to maybe join the effort to cure cancer, although I'm not sure yet." 

Each day began with a "mini-talk" by the program instructor, which often aligned with the day's subject matter, but was sometimes just new or fascinating information in the world of science. Soon after, students were fully immersed in lectures and learning. 

"After the first part of the lecture we'd go into breakout rooms to collaborate on a worksheet covering what we had learned, then regroup to wrap up the morning lecture," explains Ayden. "We would then finish with the rest of the lecture. After a lunch/test break, we'd move on to the lab portion of our day."

Students completed lab work in breakout rooms before returning to the full classroom to discuss their work and findings.  

"The lab sessions were the most useful part of the program, where you were asked to work alongside your classmates," Ayden says. "It helped to brush up on my scientific method skills—formulating and testing hypotheses and carrying out experiments— and practice problem solving with others, exactly what I'd be doing in a professional setting."

For a student with Ayden's commitment, curiosity, and passion, the intensive academic nature of the program seemed a good fit. And for a student with a clear vision of the path he will follow in the future, the program marked a meaningful and important step in that direction.

"My biggest takeaway is that there is a lot that goes along with biomedical engineering and molecular biology," says Ayden. "There is so much to know and much, much more to discover." 

Ayden's summer experience was made possible in part by a Meg Page'74 Fellowship grant. To honor her commitment to compassionate health care, these grants are awarded annually to students who wish to explore an experience or course of study devoted to the provision of better health care in areas such as public health, family planning, medical research, mental health, and non-Western practices of healing.