Putting STEM to Work – First in a Series 

Thanks to the generous support of Regeneron, we are introducing a new quarterly column called “Putting STEM to Work.” Each quarter, a local high school student with a passion for science will be paired with a Regeneron scientist so they can learn what it’s like to put STEM education to work in the real world. The River Journal would like to thank Regeneron for opening their doors – and labs – to future scientists from the River Towns. 

Xia Saavedra and Jeff Staples at Regeneron

My name is Xia Saavedra and I’m a sophomore at Ossining High School. I have a deep interest in science, human anatomy, and technology. In the future, I definitely want to pursue a career in STEM such as a researcher or a physician. My teacher told me about an amazing opportunity to interview a researcher at Regeneron. Of course, I immediately said yes. I was surprised that one of the biggest biotechnology companies was only a fifteen minute drive from my home!  

The scientist I met with was Jeff Staples. He is a geneticist who also lives in Ossining. When we sat down Jeff was so friendly which immediately made me feel comfortable. My first question was simply: What exactly does your job entail? Jeff said he focuses on Mendelian genetics and family trees. He compared his job to solving a puzzle and said he analyzes tons of genetic data. He finds certain genes that cause diseases and also finds people who may not be part of their family tree.  

I truly have never met someone as passionate about their job, I could see his eyes light up when talking about what he does. He also talked about the PCSK9 gene which he does a lot of work with. Regeneron found that this gene is involved in hypercholesterolemia which can increase one’s chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Having this knowledge allowed scientists to develop a drug to lower certain patients cholesterol levels! I found this so amazing because it’s a real world application that Jeff has contributed to.  

I followed up by asking Jeff what part of his job he loves most and he said he loves that it combines his interest in technology and in biology. This answer truly resonated with me because those are my current interests! Next I asked him: What advice he has for someone like me who wants to pursue a career in STEM. He said that making connections, meeting with professionals, and having mentors in place who can give you advice is the way to go. Hearing this made me very happy because that’s what I was doing, meeting a professional who could talk to me about their journey.  

I continued to ask him more technical questions about coding such as how many languages he knew. He knew over 9 languages which really surprised me because I just started learning one coding language! After that I asked him how Regeneron’s environment has helped him become the scientist he is. He replied saying Regeneron really is a big family and all his peers are extremely nice. I knew this response was genuine because when I was there everyone was so friendly and it was a warm yet professional environment. When our interview ended I also got to tour their genetics lab with Jeff and the head of the lab.   

Xia Saavedra and Jeff Staples, Regeneron
Xia Saavedra and Jeff Staples in the lab

I was so excited to tour the lab and to see all the equipment. Right when I walked in I saw these amazing machines. There was one machine that did the bench work of 70 people! This allows the people working in the lab to spend less time prepping samples and more time using critical thinking to analyze the data they generate. There was a robotic arm in the center of the machine that goes 270 degrees to reach all the tools it needs to micropipette and run PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). They showed me another machine they were currently working on that does the same thing but with new improvements. I could see how Regeneron always strives to improve and build on what they currently have.  

This was such a memorable experience for me. Getting to interview a scientist and talk to him about his journey was so amazing. This opportunity confirmed for me that a career in STEM is a tangible option and that there are people in my community who can give me advice and help me on my own journey. 


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About the Author: Xia Saavedra