Bio major aims for med school, pediatrics career

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Velisha Guillaume

 Hometown: White Plains, N.Y.
Major: Biology (Cellular/Molecular)
Minor: Psychology
Anticipated Graduation: May 2015

How did you hear about New Paltz?

I wasn’t looking at the school initially. One of my guidance counselors in high school told me she knew a girl who went here and absolutely loved it. I didn’t visit the school before I picked it, but something drew me to it. It was just a feeling I had. That’s how I ended up here. It was definitely the right choice.

My first year, I was so insistent on transferring. I had a very hard time adjusting at first, and I wanted to leave. It was so different from where I grew up. I applied to another SUNY school and got in, but then I decided to stay at New Paltz. Thank goodness I stayed, because I love this place.

And now that I’m graduating soon, I don’t want to leave!

What interests you about cellular and molecular biology?

You have this human body, and we’re all so different on that scale. But when you bring down that focus, you see that we all have the same cells. All these little particles, molecules, atoms – they all build up and make a person. Every person is unique. Why is this person like this, or why does this person have a certain disease and this other person doesn’t? It’s so fascinating to me.

I’m also pursuing a minor in psychology. I get to learn the other side of science – the more social and human aspects of it. It’s made my experience very well-rounded. I’ve learned a lot in these past four years.

You get a closer perspective of what a real scientist does. I learned so many different techniques I don’t think I would’ve gained from class.


How are your studies here preparing you for medical school?

What’s so different is that instead of just doing a pre-med track, you learn so much more going into biology. It’s important to have something that makes you stand out. I’m not just taking general biology or general chemistry, but I’m getting into upper-level courses, which makes me stand out in applications.

What have you gained from your research experience?

Honestly, I was a little nervous to do research. It’s different from what I’ve known in the classroom. Going into a lab and doing an experiment because you’re told to do it and figuring out the processes on your own are two very different things. But I tried it, because it was my last summer here. I was really glad I did, and I continued my research through the fall semester.

I learned more in the research program than I did in a lot of my classes. You get a closer perspective of what a real scientist does. I learned so many different techniques I don’t think I would’ve gained from class. I built a stronger relationship with my professor and faculty mentor, Maureen Morrow. I met really cool people along the way who also taught me a lot.

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Velisha in the lab with her research partner, Stevie White, and her faculty mentor, Professor Maureen Morrow.

How do you benefit from close interaction with your professors?

I think it adds a really great level. It’s not just an academic setting. You don’t just come in and look for answers to your questions. You get to know them on a personal level. I’ve made some great relationships with a lot of professors. Getting to know them and listening to the way they teach and what they studied is really cool.

I’ve talked to friends who go to large universities, and they have biology class with 200 to 300 people and they never get a chance to meet the professor. Here, you get to go to their office hours without hundreds of people crowding around them. It’s just you and the professor. I’d rather have that, than be just a number. Here, the professors see you as students and they get to know who you are. Obviously, you have to put in the effort to put yourself out there and meet them. But the professors here make the time.

I love Professor (Jeffrey) Reinking’s teaching style. I took one of his upper level bio courses because I really liked him as a professor, and I learned a lot in that class. Then I took a biochemistry class called “Protein Structure and Function.” It was challenging, but I really liked it, so now I’m taking Biochemistry I because of his teaching.

Velisha and research partner Stevie in the lab.
Velisha and research partner Stevie in the lab.

How did you come to join the AMP-CSTEP program?

At summer orientation, Reena DePaolo came up to me and said she thought I’d be a great person to join. I was new and I wanted to get involved, so I joined the program. It’s been great. I’m so glad I did.

AMP-CSTEP helps with renting textbooks, and they also provide tutoring. But there’s also emotional support. We all know what we’re all going through, we all take the same classes, and we’re all in the same demographic. We can be together and provide each other a support system.


You don’t just come in and look for answers to your questions.
You get to know your professors on a personal level.


What will you miss about New Paltz? What’s the next step?

I’m planning on applying to medical school, and also some post-baccalaureate grad schools in case the med school doesn’t pan out. But medical school has always been the plan. I’ve known since high school that I wanted to be a pediatrician. It’s so weird to think about leaving, but those are my next steps – continue with my medical track and be the best doctor I can be. That’s my end goal. I’m still researching schools, and I’m still having a hard time even grasping the concept that I’m graduating.

I’m going to miss my friends. A lot of them have become like my second family. I’ll really miss the community. People are so nice here. I walk down the street, and people say “Good morning,” and I say it back. I’ll really miss the atmosphere, the environment. The trees changing color in the fall, going up to Lake Minnewaska and Mohonk. There are a lot of things I’m going to miss.