In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences spotlights distinguished members of the Class of 2022 from a wide range of disciplines.
Lumen Scholar Melissa Denish will enroll in Sidney Kimmel Medical School at Thomas Jefferson University this fall as she considers a career in neurology.
Majoring in biochemistry, she earned minors in psychology and criminal justice. She was a teaching and learning assistant for the general chemistry labs at the start of her second year and continued in this role throughout her senior year, working alongside many chemistry teachers.
Denish is a member of the Phi Lambda Upsilon Chemistry Honors Society and received the Department of Chemistry Freshman Chemistry Award. She was a member of the Elon Mock Trial team that moved from regional competition to compete in the opening championship series at Georgia Tech this spring. Denish has also been involved with Hillel and the Elon Pre-Health Society.
What the teachers said:
“Melissa embraces the idea of learning as a key part of living your best life. For example, her freshman year she was an active member of the LICHENS Living and Learning Community for STEM majors and continued that joy in his mentorship of other students studying STEM,” said assistant professor of chemistry Jen Dabrowski.
How did you choose your biochemistry major?
I knew I was fascinated by the biological and chemical sciences, thanks to the mentorship of Dr. Viscariello from my high school. The minor in criminal justice studies grew out of an interest in forensic science, and I studied psychology simply because I find it interesting and know that it can be useful in so many areas.
Tell us about your Lumen Prize-winning research project.
I have two research mentors, Dr. Tonya Train in biology and Dr. Kathryn Matera in chemistry. My research is entitled “Investigating the Molecular Basis of Tay-Sachs Disease” and involves modeling this fatal neurodegenerative disease in the laboratory.
I chose this subject because it combined two major parts of my identity: science and my Jewish identity. TSD is more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. I was thrilled to participate in a research project that was important to me personally and professionally.
I presented this research twice at the Elon Spring Undergraduate Research Forum, once as a poster and once as an oral presentation. I also attended SERMACS, or the Southeastern Regional Meeting of the American Chemical Society, where I presented my research in poster form.
I worked closely with Dr. Train and Dr. Matera. My relationship with them was not only limited to my research, but they were also very involved in my medical school application journey. Another teacher I have worked with extensively is Dr. Dan Wright. He is my advisor and welcomed me with open arms to the chemistry department.
What have been the most valuable parts of your college experience?
There are several aspects of my undergraduate career that have largely defined my academic career. The Lumen Award solidified my interest in research and contributed to my desire to become a doctor. This program has given me a cohort of amazing research students in all fields to learn from. Also, I participated in the Holocaust Journey study abroad last winter. I had an incredible and meaningful experience visiting five concentration camps and even seeing the courthouse of the Nuremberg trials.
What advice would you give to future students of Elon?
Although college can be stressful, there are plenty of ways to build strong social bonds with others and create a support network that can last a lifetime! I recommend joining clubs and organizations and exploring courses in all areas. I wish I had known that it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to ask for help when and if you need it. When I took organic chemistry, I struggled a lot. I’m grateful that I didn’t let this experience deter me from pursuing my major or applying to medical school.