Since she was a little girl, Fatuma-Ayaan Rinderknecht knew she wanted to be a doctor. She even had a toy medical kit she carried around with her.
But thanks to five consecutive years focusing on science in a Johns Hopkins summer program, this Davis High School junior has narrowed her future goals down to something a bit more specific, though no less ambitious.
“I want to get my M.D. and Ph.D,” she said. “I want to be a neurobiologist, but also look into the genetics of the brain; working with patients, but also doing research on neuro-cognitive diseases so I can help create treatments, too.”
She’s well on her way.
In fact, next summer Rinderknecht will spend six weeks as a paid intern in a lab at either the Johns Hopkins Medical Institute or the school’s Center for Excellence in Genome Sciences, both in Baltimore.
It all started when she was a student at Holmes Junior High School five years ago and decided to participate in the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth program. That first summer she spent three weeks at California Lutheran University studying inductive and deductive reasoning. The next two summers were spent at Loyola Marymount University studying first mathematical logic, and then biomedical sciences.
Her success in those programs led Johns Hopkins to offer her a three-year scholarship to spend part of each summer at the Baltimore university studying the fields of genetics and genomics.
Last year, she studied genetics; this past summer genomics. Next year, she’ll be working in a laboratory setting under an established researcher.
“It’s been a really great experience and I’m really looking forward to going back,” she said.
She’s already gotten some lab work under her belt, as it was included in the work she did there this past summer.
One of the things students did, Rinderknecht said, was swab assorted surfaces around campus, then extract the DNA to determine what was living on the surfaces. Rinderknecht discovered a computer mouse she swabbed carried all sorts of bacteria, and while the girls’ bathroom was quite clean, the boys’ bathroom, well, not so much.
“That was a cool kind of lab,” she said.
Other research involved mapping out “where we are from based on a DNA swab of ourselves.”
During a field trip with the group, Rinderknecht was inspired by a cardiologist she met who splits his time between patients and research.
“He spends one-fourth of his time working with patients and three-fourths working on research so he can help his patients,” she explained.
“Research is really interesting,” she added, “and researchers spend their whole lives looking for a cure, but I also like working with people, so I want to do that, too.”
As exciting as it is to have figured out what she wants to do with her life, Rinderknecht said the whole experience has just been really fun.
“I’ve met the most amazing kids, who are really smart, but also really nice,” she said.
And getting to do what she’s done, she added, “I’d never be able to do in school. I love science, but when I’m at school, it’s not as fun. So that was really cool.”
She does expect to get some real-world lab experience this year, since she’s taking biotechnology at the high school, a course that offers internships in local labs.
After high school, she’ll attend undergraduate school, possibly in California, maybe on the East Coast, she said, but she’d definitely like to attend Johns Hopkins for medical school.
For now, she’s focused on schoolwork, rowing with the River City Rowing Club, participating in the Model U.N. at the high school and preparing for SATs. But she highly recommends the Center for Talented Youth to other Davis students.
“It’s just a great program,” she said.
For more information about the program, check with guidance counselors at area junior high and high schools or visit http://cty.jhu.edu.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or (530) 747-8051.