Kasandra Diaz – Psychobiology
Hometown: Dominican Republic/Brooklyn, N.Y.
Minor: Evolutionary Studies
Anticipated Graduation Date: May 2015
- AMP/CSTEP Program
- Peer mentor, work study student, Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)
- Latino Culture Center
- MAPS (Minority Association of Pre-medical Students)
- Lab assistant to Professor Jennifer Waldo
What kind of research projects have you worked on here?
Since last summer, I’ve been working with Professor Jennifer Waldo (Biology) trying to develop a DNA test for the genotype of Rhodesian ridgeback dogs. There is a correlation between a disease called dermoid sinus and the phenotype that causes their coats to make an arrow shape toward their back. It can be very painful, and requires costly surgery to treat. We’re trying to develop a test to see the genotype for this particular disease, so that dog breeders can send in their DNA and we can tell them if they have this disease. This will help avoid breeding dogs that carry this mutation.
What was it like transitioning from New York City to New Paltz?
I wanted to go back to an environment that resembles the Dominican Republic, where I was born and raised. I’m used to nature, and I wanted the experience of going away to college, but didn’t want to go too far away. My guidance counselor told me about SUNY New Paltz, but I’d never heard about the school. I visited in the summer, and New Paltz in the summer is beautiful. The trees, the flowers – the environment is very homey, and it reminds me of the Dominican Republic. It was far enough so I could have the experience, but close enough that if I’m homesick, and I want my dad to cook me some Dominican food, I can tell him I’m coming back.
Did you discover psychobiology here at New Paltz?
Yes. I didn’t even know that was a major that existed. Since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a doctor, so I thought biology was the way to go. But I realized I was really interested in the human brain, and I’m more interested in cognitive psychology and neuropsychology than biology. A lot of the biology classes I was taking weren’t fulfilling that interest for me. My EOP advisor, Clare Kelly-Barra, suggested that I take a general psychology class. I really liked the major, but I was still interested in biology and didn’t know what to do. Clare told me about the psychobiology major, and it was perfect. It combined both of the things I was interested in. Through that major, I discovered the evolutionary studies minor.
What kind of support have you received from the EOP program?
We have one of the best EOP programs here. It was amazing how it worked out. Tony Bonilla (EOP director, SUNY New Paltz alumnus) called my principal and told her that I and a friend of mine got into the school. They pulled us out of a presentation to tell us we got in, and my friend and I were screaming!
My EOP advisor, Clare, is great. She gives me a lot of advice and allows me to take the risks I need to take. My biology classes were very hard, and EOP got us tutors, which was so helpful. Sometimes you don’t want to tell your parents you’re struggling in class, and Clare is always there when I’m trying my best but having a horrible time. She guides me, and tells me what I need to do to succeed. It’s the support you need. When I feel like I need a laugh, or whenever I’m looking for something to do, I go to the EOP office and hang out.
How did you become involved with the AMP-CSTEP Community?
My roommate was in the program and kept telling me to join. Toward the end of my sophomore year, I got in. It’s another one of the best decisions I’ve made; I was only sad I didn’t make it sooner! Through AMP-CSTEP, I’m able to participate in research teams and go to conferences where I meet other students who are interested in biology and psychology. Last semester they lent me three books, and those are books I don’t have to buy or rent. Reena DePaolo (assistant director of AMP-CSTEP) is like another advisor to me. She is always pushing me and encouraging me to apply to research programs and study abroad programs. This summer, we took a three-day trip to visit graduate schools in the Boston area. She had meetings set up for us to meet with professors, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I wasn’t part of AMP-CSTEP. We go hiking, horseback riding – we do so much together. It’s about the education, which is important, but it’s also building a community, getting to know people in your field, and having some fun.