Editor's note: Intern Spotlight is a Ball State Daily News series profiling Ball State students and their summer internships. If you have any suggestions as to who we should feature next, send an email to email@example.com.
When Alex Quillin came to Ball State as a freshman, she thought her passion was dentistry.
“I wanted to be an orthodontist for the longest time,” Quillin said. “Then, I job shadowed my freshman year, and I passed out.”
After changing her courses to biology and chemistry, Quillin was finally able to confirm her decision through her summer internship at Roche Diagnostics, a pharmaceutical company.
“I definitely feel like I contributed to the overall knowledge that [Roche Diagnostics] can take to a further pursuit of creating new products to help patients,” Quillin said. “I also feel like, with test strips right now, I helped to improve them to give better readings so that way diabetics have a more reliable, more accurate glucose level reading, and therefore, they can manage their diabetes better.”
Before joining the research team at Roche Diagnostics, Quillin was already familiar with a lab setting because she researched mitoNEET — a protein that diabetes prescription drugs target — at Ball State with her mentor Mary Konkle, assistant professor of chemistry.
“[Quillin is] pretty dogged, which is great because [with] science [and] research, you just assume a lot of things will fail,” Konkle said. “You can be very smart and have a very good idea and have it just not be right. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad scientist — it just isn’t the way nature works. So, she doesn’t let roadblocks concern her.”
In addition to Konkle, Quillin said other Ball State professors were supporting her and her goals before she began her internship.
Earlier this year, she was one of 5,000 applicants for the Goldwater Scholarship, a scholarship for undergraduate students planning to pursue research-focused careers in natural sciences, mathematics and engineering.
To draft her application essay, Quillin worked with Barb Stedman, director of national and international scholarships at Ball State.
“Alex has the kind of drive and determination that the Goldwater Foundation is looking for,” Stedman said. “She has overcome a number of personal challenges to attend college and has set her sights high for future PhD studies and a career in diabetes research. I have no doubt she’ll succeed in meeting those goals.”
In April, Quillin found out she was one of 496 students who won the Goldwater Scholarship.
“It was me [and] all the professors that have seen me throughout the years in the chemistry department, and we scrolled down on the website, and we saw my name,” Quillin said. “They started screaming, [and] I started screaming. Then I realized I got it, and then I started crying.”
After applying for the internship and completing an interview, Quillin learned in early November 2018 she was chosen as a summer intern for Roche Diagnostics.
“[Roche Diagnostics looks for] somebody that has a good foundation in chemistry,” said Matt Gnezda, principal scientist at Roche Diagnostics. “[We look for] somebody that you know can do the work, who is not afraid of making mistakes, [and] somebody who is confident in what they can do.”
Quillin was accepted for the 10-week internship, and every day she commuted from Greenfield, Indiana, to Indianapolis.
Quillin said focusing on diabetes care was what drew her to apply for an internship at Roche Diagnostics because her father has Type 1 Diabetes.
“Roche Diagnostics had a special place in my heart because of that,” Quillin said. "... I have helped my dad with his diabetes on multiple occasions. The most prominent memory I have is when we were on a field trip in middle school, and his glucose levels were getting very low, and we didn’t have anything on hand for him to eat or drink to raise them.
"When I was younger, those experiences were terrifying because I felt limited in what I could do to help him in those situations. Now, I reflect on all I have learned so far about diabetes on a molecular level in my classes, and sharing [what I've learned] with him truly brings us closer together and feeling more informative about his condition."
During her time at Roche Diagnostics, Quillin said she designed experiments and conducted research on test strips used to check blood glucose levels. She also said she was able to use more advanced research material than she did at Ball State.
“For example, we use pipettes in my lab [at Ball State] all the time, and to see [Roche Diagnostics’] pipettes — the more expensive ones, the more precise ones — was a treat to use,” Quillin said.
During her internship, Quillin also said she had the opportunity to engross herself in the Indianapolis community as a member of Roche Diagnostics’ social and volunteer team. She said she and more than 400 other Indianapolis interns participated in IndyFluence, a program in which students volunteer at food banks, paint murals and clean parks.
“[IndyFluence] was one of my favorite experiences,” Quillin said. “We worked on 10 different service projects. It was awesome. We spent the whole day volunteering.”
As Quillin continues to develop her chemistry research and improve her experiments, she said she hopes to work toward improving herself as well.
“As a chemist, that’s what we are doing — we are continuously taking what we already have, and we are trying to improve it,” Quillin said. “I want to apply that strategy to myself as a person. I want to continue to better myself, learn more [and] understand more, so I can help people more.”
Having completed her internship and now looking toward graduate school, Quillin said she will not only cherish the professional experience she has gained at Ball State and Roche Diagnostics but also the people she has met.
“I found people [at Ball State] that they take you in, they want to see you grow, and I found the same experience at Roche,” Quillin said. “They were so willing to help. They were interested in who I was as a growing chemist, and they were willing to invest in me. I met people that have left an impact on me, and I will remember that forever.”
Contact Grace McCormick with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.