ALUMNA SPOTLIGHT: Rachel Spanton
High School of Health Sciences 2017 Graduate
What have you been up to since High School?
I graduated from UW-Madison in the Spring of 2021 with a degree in Neurobiology and a certificate in Global Health (which is now offered as a major at UW-Madison for future students interested!). I have spent many years as a student researcher, now Lab Technician, at the UW hospital in the Department of Pediatrics, specializing in infectious disease with the Mohr lab. We study congenital zika syndrome and the spectrum of disease outcomes associated with infection in a translational macaque model. I've furthered my technical skills with the wet lab work, but I've also learned valuable skills that I didn't picture myself fulfilling in High School such as organizing large data sets, coding, and optimizing my own molecular bioassays. These felt like big accomplishments for me as a post-undergrad.
I am now employed as a Research Intern in Dr Ausderau's lab at the Waisman Center, where I'll investigate neurodevelopmental outcomes in macaques exposed to Zika virus. I'll be moving more towards clinical research as I get involved in projects that work with adults with intellectual disability and children with Autism. Other than research, I’ve worked as a CNA in nursing homes, I’ve volunteered weekly at the Madison Ronald McDonald House consistently over the past year, been inspired to start relearning Spanish because of my involvement at the house, and I’m deciding on whether I’m ready to apply to medical school again or if another career path suits me better.
How did HS^2 prepare you for your future?
I believe that HS^2 helped the most to increase my exposure to different areas of medicine with the organized shadowing opportunities, and the access to healthcare-oriented certifications like EMT, EMR, and CNA. This job exposure was most helpful because it translated to real life job experience which I think matters a lot more than class content. You’ll realize that when you no longer have to go to class anymore and you are mostly asked about your job experience.
Is there anything specific you enjoyed about HS^2?
When I look back on my experience at HS^2, I feel most grateful for the connections I had with my teachers and peers. They helped me through most of my vulnerable experiences as a teenager as I struggled with anxiety and developing realistic expectations of myself. I know that any relationship is what you choose to make of it, that's true for friendships, family, and whether or not you choose to talk to a teacher you have trust in about why you’re not turning in assignments. I promise you'll grow a lot more if you allow your teachers and friends a front row seat to your goals, struggles, and ideas you have about yourself and personality. I enjoyed growing closer to my community of students and teachers, while watching the school evolve into a greater resource for students with each passing year.
What advice would you give to current and future HS^2 students?
For the longest time, I perceived that I was only able to contact certain people that were expecting a message from me. This is not true. Most people have an email and a phone number, and you're entitled to annoy, repeat email, and be as up front about your goals as you want to be--of course within the bounds of respecting people's time and boundaries. If there is a person with an interesting job that you know nothing about, email them, describe who you are and why you're interested in them. You'll maybe get a zoom call or office tour scheduled, or even better, the feeling that you've found a person to be a resource that supports you. You might get nothing out of it, but you have everything to gain by advocating for yourself and your curiosity. Imagine what it would look like to a senior scientist if a middle schooler reached out to them. This is called mentoring up!