Many people are familiar with the linear path to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer, but the path to a career in research is harder to quantify. Thanks to the Summer Scholars Program at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team (SMAHRT), Scholar alumni and current high school senior Tommy LaGuardia participated in the research process early on in high school career, which helped him develop research skills and identify specific areas of interest to pursue in the future.
“Being exposed to [research] head on instead of looking at it through a newsletter or magazine or research article, it’s even more impactful,” Tommy said. “Then, I can envision myself in [that] position.”
While participating in the Summer Scholars program, Tommy worked on a project about how violence and video games affect teens and behavior. Tommy noted the program informed his perception of social media’s role in this life, and how it affects his peers.
“Not only do I get to see firsthand and how social media affects teens because I am a teen, but [I also see] people at school or on social media that are in my grade or younger than me interact [with it], or how they display themselves,” Tommy said. “In the back of my head, I’m reverting back to what I learned at SMAHRT and how this behavior has progressed over time. It’s one of those things that make me more aware of what’s going on in the world.”
In addition to working on projects related to social media research while at SMAHRT, Tommy also learned about other professions related to health care. While in the program, he met researchers in the field like Dr. Robert Bradley at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and was introduced to biomedical research.
“SMAHRT was great in the fact that they exposed to a lot of different researchers and scientists that I hadn’t encountered before, or wouldn’t have imagined that I would encounter,” Tommy said.
“Connections that I made at SMAHRT pushed me [to be curious] about the field and inspired me to pursue a passion for the medical field.”
After the Summer Scholars Program, Tommy went on to complete a summer internship at Fred Hutch where he researched how RNA splicing can help treat myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia. In addition to doing research at Fred Hutch and SMAHRT, Tommy has been open to a variety of opportunities and industries when pursuing extracurricular activities, which is why he participated in student government, worked at Microsoft, and conducted research all while taking difficult IB courses in high school.
This spring, Tommy graduate from Kent-Meridian High School and go on to attend Stanford University in the fall with a full-ride scholarship through QuestBridge, a program that bridges the gap between high-achieving but economically disadvantaged or educationally underserved youth with opportunities to attend leading colleges across the nation.
“I’m the first person in my family to go to college, so it’s a big deal. Although I’m saying that I did this for my parents and my family, it’s [also] for future generations as a Pacific Islander,” Tommy said. “[I hope] to show that the younger ones can accomplish whatever I accomplish, if not more than that.”
At Stanford, Tommy hopes to major in biochemistry and learn about biomedical research, and he is exploring potential careers as a healthcare professional or research. Regardless of the specific field, Tommy clearly has big things ahead of him.
“All of my life or passion in the medical field spurs from the fact that I want to make an impact on the world. I think everyone wants to do that,” Tommy said. “The way I hope to do so is hopefully through the medical field.”
While taking rigorous courses and conducting research, Tommy continues to draw strength from the people in his life, particularly his mother Catherine, father Tommy, stepfather Salesi, and academic counselors Mrs. Moss and Mrs. McClung at Kent-Meridian.
“It is always important to push forward, and to remember to reflect,” Tommy said. “My mom has always been a grounding force to me.”
Tommy’s advice to future participants in the Summer Scholars Program is to be open to exploring new fields, and programs like Summer Scholars is one outlet for doing this.
“Be open to collaborate and network,” Tommy said. “This was how I was able to find my opportunity at the Fred Hutch. I learned a lot of RNA splicing and how that related to cancer and other human disease[s].”
Catherine expressed gratitude to SMAHRT for supporting Thomas’ goals and providing the opportunity for him participate in a program like Summer Scholars and learn about research.
“Thomas is kind, honest, humble, and very quiet about his achievements and hard work,” Catherine said. “I know, one day, Thomas plans to work in research and help make the world a better place and always give back, and a lot of it had to do with the volunteer time at places like [SMAHRT].”
Tommy is excited to head off to California in the fall because he’ll be close to his family while still attending an academically rigorous school with a plethora of research opportunities. Ultimately, Tommy is thankful and humbled to have the opportunity to attend Stanford and identify the next steps in his career.
“Knowing what I’ve done is great, but I also acknowledge I couldn’t be where I am without my teachers, counselors, family, friends, and peers, especially SMAHRT,” Tommy said.