‘Always an Opportunity’

Finding a mentor for her PLTW class leads Allison Flynn to a job at Wash U. researching Alzheimer's disease


Leah Miget

Allison Flynn shows off her badge from the Cruchaga Lab at Wash U.

Leah Miget, Reporter

Most high school students have a job working in retail or the food service industry. But there are some students with jobs that stand out from the usual. Allison Flynn is a student with one of these unique jobs that came from fulfilling the requirements of a PLTW class project.

“I work with a research lab that’s researching Alzheimer’s disease and the possible genes that could be leading to Alzheimer’s,” Flynn said. “They look at blood samples and brain tissue samples and try to find if there are any genes that are recognizable between people who have Alzheimer’s and people who don’t to see if there are any differences in gene sequences.”

In the PLTW Biomedical Innovations (BI) class, there is a year-long research project where students are able to choose the topic also have the opportunity to try to get a mentor. Mr. Evans gave his BI class some resources and the mentor list for their project and Wash U. was one of the most prominent options. Flynn went onto the Wash U. website that has a list of undergrad mentors and she reached out to a couple of people on the list. The lead investigator for a research project, Dr. Cruchaga, got back to her a while later. It was supposed to start as a job shadowing opportunity but it turned out to be an actual job.

Flynn drives 40 minutes to get to Cruchaga Lab two to three days a week and, after clocking in, she meets with the lab manager and they run samples on various items ranging from blood samples to brain tissue samples. They look for DNA concentrations, nucleotide sequences and the like. After Flynn is shown what she needs to know about examining samples, she’ll be able to go to work and examine the samples on her own. That takes up the majority of her time at the lab until she clocks out and goes home.

“I think my favorite part right now since I just started is I really like all the people down there. They’re all super, super nice and super understanding because I don’t know what field I want to go into yet for medicine so this is always an opportunity,” Flynn said. She works with the lead investigator, Dr. Cruchaga, the assistant professor, Dr. Benitez, and the lab manager, John Budde. Even though Flynn has only been working there for only two to three weeks, she seems to enjoy the work she does at Cruchaga Lab.