Ashmina Shilpakar

Occupation: Data manager and protocol Manager for clinical studies, The Emmes Corporation
Education: Wheaton HS (Biosciences Academy), University of Richmond, Johns Hopkins University

You’ve dissected eyeballs, kidneys, and pigs and studied the brains of mice, all while in high school. Was this by choice? Most definitely! It was my decision to attend the Biosciences Academy at Wheaton High School. I grew up in Nepal where the health care wasn’t very good, so I’ve always been interested in medicine. I want to make sure everyone has access to quality health care.

  What was it like to attend the Biosciences Academy?
It was pretty incredible. In addition to the labs, the courses I took gave me such a head start in college and graduate school. We did a lot of case studies in high school where we had to analyze a case, research it, write a scientific report, and make a presentation. The Academy also gave me opportunities that I would not have otherwise known about and my teachers were instrumental in helping me with the applications.

  Tell us about the programs.
I attended two programs during the summer of 10th grade. One was a Health Science Boot Camp at Montgomery College where I learned medical terminology and hands-on skills like suturing. The other was the Science, Service, Medicine and Mentoring program at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. I shadowed different doctors and learned about various medical fields.

  You also had a paid internship at NIH in high school. How did that come about?
I’m really thankful to Ms. Heather Carias and Ms. Talia Turner, who were my teachers in the Academy at the time. Only one student per year is selected for the Newcomb Memorial Scholarship/Internship Award at NIH, and both Ms. Carias and Ms, Tuner helped me prepare for the interview. I worked in the neurological diseases and stroke department for two summers, and in the 12th grade I went to school for half a day and then to the lab for five hours. This is where I learned how to run tests with the brain tissues of mice. The kind of experience I was getting in high school is not typically available until the junior or senior year in college. I had such an advantage over my college classmates who were trying to learn something I had already been doing for several years.

  How did your high school experience give you an edge in your current position?
I learned how to handle myself in a professional environment, work in teams, and work independently, skills that are transferrable to any job. Currently, I’m working with top physicians on clinical research into macular degeneration, an eye disease that affects a huge population. I train site coordinators throughout the U.S., generate reports, and make presentations, skills that I learned in high school.

  Do you have any advice for high school students?
Start early! It’s really competitive and employers are looking for experience when they hire. By the time I graduated from college, I could say that I had six years of experience compared to my friends who only had one to two years. I stood out from the start.