July 23, 2014
By: Chelsea Zillner, Auburn Athletics
The life of a student-athlete is anything but normal. The fast-paced and hectic lifestyle leaves little time for outside activities, especially demanding internships. Rising senior Melena Smith is a member of the Auburn equestrian team who has managed to put the emphasis on the "student" part of student-athlete.
A biomedical science major from New York, Smith is spending her summer interning at the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, Wash. The study of systems biology is new the biology world. It's an inter-disciplinary field of study that focuses on interaction within a biological system. Smith is studying regenerative medicine at the cellular level and observing how cells communicate with one another.
"Systems biology is a whole new branch of biology," explains Smith. "It's a combination among biology, technology and computation. "
Smith is working under the guidance of Dr. Leroy Hood. Hood is the president and co-founder of the institute as well as a winner of multiple National Medal of Science awards. Along with being a pioneer in system's biology, Hood was also a student-athlete. A quarterback at Caltech back in the 1960s, Hood understands the demands and lifestyle of a student-athlete.
"He was impressed by my GPA and the fact that I'm a student-athlete," said Melena. "He really takes the initiative to help out athletes, so it's exciting to be an intern in his program."
Smith is one of several interns participating in the seven-week internship. Their research could prove pivotal to cancer, environmental and technology research advancements. Smith enjoys being around up-and-coming scientists who offer a forward-thinking approach.
"I love being around these brilliant people every day," said Smith. `'They really encourage me to think creatively and think about problems that need to be solved in biology. They push me to further understand the problem and believe that I can contribute in solving that problem."
Smith spends her days culturing cells, researching and working on projects that contribute to the advancement of biology. Her research will be used to help scientists further their research. As for Smith's future, she plans on a successful last season on the equestrian team and grad school.
"Right now I'm still in the decision phase of what I want to do next," said Smith. "I do want to do more school, so right now I'm doing a lot of research on different graduate programs. I am excited to get back to Auburn and get back with my team."
Being a student-athlete has contributed to success in Smith's internship. She credits being able to work on a team with diverse personalities to being on a successful team at the Institute.
"The Institute has a very collaborative atmosphere; everyone comes from very different backgrounds, programs and specialties, but we all work together to solve these different problems. It's been fun because it's been such a team atmosphere, just like in college. Everyone has a job and when everyone does their job, we get results."
Smith will return to The Plains in early August for her senior year and final season on the equestrian team. Keeping up with the demands of a student-athlete and her internship has offered a unique experience.
"I've been running every day to get in shape for the season before I head into work every morning," said Smith. "It's been a great experience keeping up with both parts of my life as a college athlete and a student, I'm fortunate to be able to do what I do."