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From Lab to Rescue Squad Ethiopia Getachew '19 always had an interest in science, but working in the biochemistry lab and volunteering with local EMTs helped her future plans take shape.

“I had always been interested in how things operated in the biochemical and molecular level, but working as an HHMI Fellow the past two years really piqued my interest. “

Ethiopia Getachew ’19 (Photo by Alison Christiana, Questbridge)

Hometown: Addis Ababa, Ethiopia — Westwood, MA
Major: Biology

My Washington and Lee experience is a summary of all the opportunities afforded to me and how I took advantage of them. Through my experience at W&L, I have made amazing friends that I know will be there for so many years on. Some were on my hall my first year and our friendship is going three years strong; others I met through my classes, social events, clubs and organizations and much more. Academically and professionally, I have pursued my interests with the support and encouragement of professors, faculty, friends and family.

Some highlights so far include my HHMI research in Professor LaRiviere’s lab and getting involved with the Lexington community as an EMT. As part of my research with Professor LaRiviere I learned to conduct my own independent research, make experimental decisions based on data, and read and assess scientific papers. I had always been interested in how things operated in the biochemical and molecular level, but working as an HHMI Fellow the past two years really piqued my interest. In the lab, I am currently working on assessing how nitrogen starvation affects this ribosomal degradation pathway called NRD (nonfunctional rRNA decay) that was actually discovered originally by Professor LaRiviere and his colleagues. Working with other students in the lab has also taught me how to work with a team in a scientific setting. All together this experience has shown me that while I am still very interested in becoming a doctor, I would still love to incorporate research into my future and perhaps pursue a career more focused on translational medicine.

During my summer in Lexington, while I was not in the lab, I volunteered at the Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital, as well as at the Lexington Fire Department. I had recently finished my EMT course at the SVU campus and got my EMT certification, so I was very excited to start running with the rescue squad. I went on ridealongs with them and learned how to conduct myself in crisis situations, help those in some of the scariest moments of their lives and provide a caring and professional persona. The paramedics and EMTs guided me through this process and allowed me to feel included in their department.

Additionally, some of our calls allowed me to further understand the local area and see beyond the Washington and Lee bubble I sometimes find myself in. We usually dropped off patients at the Stonewall Jackson hospital and left; this left me wondering what happened after. Thus, I started volunteering at the hospital in the Emergency Department as well as the Medical/Surgical floor. With this, I was able to see yet another side to medicine. I talked to family members who came to visit their loved ones, I spent time with some of the patients and gave them blankets, water… as needed. I saw how the nurses and doctors interacted with the patients and learned so much about the field I was excited to get into. Coupling these two experiences in town with my research gave me a really unique and interesting summer experience. It reaffirmed my interest in medicine and science and made the Lexington community feel simultaneously bigger and closer for me.

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A little more about Ethiopia

Extracurricular involvement:
Chi Omega Sorority Junior Panhellenic delegate (2016/2017); social chair (2017/2018)
University Ambassadors – vice president of education
Computer Science Teacher’s Assistant (last year)
Lexington Fire Department – EMT ride along, volunteered over 150 hours with the local rescue squad and fire department
Women in Science and Technology – chemistry chair
Peer Counselor
Kathekon
Alpha Phi Omega Service Fraternity Student Advisory Committee – at-large student body representative
W&L QuestBridge Chapter – liaison (2016-2017) and vice president (2017/2018)
Office for Career and Professional Development – career fellow
Why did you choose your major?
I have been interested in the sciences ever since I was a kid. I was always fascinated by how things worked and what they were composed of, and I always found myself engrossed in my science subjects. My parents encouraged my interest a lot, as well, and constantly supported me as I entered science-based competitions, or took me to museums so I could see Lucy, a fossil of the Australopithecus afarensis discovered in Ethiopia. As I grew older, I took an increased interest in biology because I was interested in how the human body works. Everything I learned made me realize that there was still so much more I did not know. Along with this, my interest to become a doctor developed. If I was to become a doctor and help people, I wanted to truly understand the workings of the human body. I chose to be a biology major at W&L because I can learn the topics that interest me from amazing professors in a way that I have never experienced before. Our classes are personal, very experimental and are ever increasing my passion for biology. I am also attempting to finish a computer science minor because, with the direction technology is heading, it is very important to have at least a basic understanding of programming.
Has anyone on campus inspired you?
It is honestly so difficult to pick just one person. My experience at W&L has been enriched by the collective influence of those around me. I have met amazing friends that I know I will have for the rest of my life. I have met professors who are so incredibly nice and invested in their students. As a first-year student, I had already found a lab as an HHMI fellow because I had expressed my interest in biochemistry to Professor LaRiviere! Additionally, by simply establishing relationships with a few faculty and administration members, I was able to truly pursue my interests. Professor Luder was the person who first encouraged me to apply for the SAC position. It was with Dean Simpson’s advice that I first got Kathekon on my radar. While these may seem like little things, the community of support on campus is something that will never cease to amaze me.
What’s your personal motto?
I wouldn’t say I have a personal motto that I stick with, per say. In general, though, I try to live my life in a way that I could be proud of in a few years. I have always been a driven person and I believe that if I am going to do something, I might as well give it 100 percent.
Best place to eat in Lexington? What do you order?
I love going to Blue Sky and ordering the Blue Sky sandwich. If I venture farther into town, I usually go to Pronto for a gelato or some tea.
What one film/book do you recommend to everyone?
“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini is one of my favorite books.
 Post-graduation plans:
After graduation, I would like to take a gap year then go on to medical school. I am not sure exactly where I want to apply but I would like to stay in the East Coast area. During my gap year, I would like to travel abroad and explore health care systems of other countries and see how medicine applies in different cultures. I took a medical ethics class with Professor Erin Taylor that really exposed me to a world of medicine and research I had not really considered. Our extensive conversations on medical and research ethics, especially in developing countries, exposed me to concepts of health equality, ethics and even concepts such as health care accessibility. I think exploring this side of medicine will really give me a strong perspective that I can then take with me to medical school. In medical school, I am currently interested in pursuing general, cardio or trauma surgery. Running with the Lexington EMTs has shown me that I have a passion for the faster-paced atmosphere of the ER.
Favorite class:
 I really enjoyed my medical ethics class because it exposed me to so many new concepts I would never have thought of. However, my favorite class has to be my plant functional ecology class with Dr. Hamilton. This class focuses on how bison grazing, fire, nutrient recycling and microbes work to affect the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park. We went to Yellowstone National Park for 10 days and stayed in a cabin. When we weren’t out and about, we were making dinner together as a class, playing card games or watching a movie. In the mornings, we usually left around 7 or 8 a.m. with one of the park rangers. We set up enclosures to help with future studies, took various soil, grass and bison poop samples (the last bit was not the most exciting part of our trip). We saw Old Faithful erupt, walked through the Lamar and Hayden valleys, saw the grand prismatic spring and so many more amazing sights. The highlight of my trip was when a group of us went with a park ranger to track a bison for the rangers. We went into parts of the national park that very few had ever ventured into. We crossed small rivers and creeks, climbed up a few hills and saw perhaps every type of wildlife the park had to offer including a family of bears, coyotes and more! And to top it all off, we ended up finding the bison. It was such an adventure and a great educational moment.
Favorite W&L event: 
My favorite W&L event has got to be the Mock Convention. I was only a freshman at that point so I was not able to get involved as much as I would have liked to. But it was amazing seeing everyone rally together and really invest in the experience. I was part of the Massachusetts delegation and helped make banners for the parade.
What’s something people wouldn’t guess about you?
I grew up in Ethiopia and have lived there for most of my life. I moved to the U.S. my junior year of high school. I went to an international school for most of my educational career so I have spoken English for as long as I can remember. People usually forget I am not American until I say something so obviously foreign. For example, I mispronounce some words like adolescence or Wheat Thins and they give me the “Ah, I keep forgetting you’re not from here.” Or I will relay an experience from my childhood that is so normal to me and they’ll be like “What?”
Another thing that most people don’t know about me is that the beginning of my sophomore year, I went with the founders of QuestBridge and a few other quest scholars from around the U.S. to the Eisenhower Executive Office building. We met with some of the prominent staff of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and discussed ways of creating a pipeline for underrepresented students to enter  and, most importantly, stay in STEM fields. It was an absolutely amazing experience to see the policy-based side of the thing I am interested in. I actually wrote a blog post about it for QuestBridge!