Gulliver Prep senior Shanna Leventhal spent two months as an intern last summer researching diabetes at a University of Miami medical laboratory. Leventhal earned the position by winning a competition through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Her research dealt with BSA, a protein in the blood that carries vitamins and minerals.
“We were allowed to work with other grad students who were working on insulin research,” Leventhal says.
At the end of the two-month program, Leventhal had to write a paper about her experience and present it to the laboratory professors and students in the program.
“There were about 60 students in about 30 labs,” she says.
Leventhal says the summer’s labors served to confirm her intention to major in cellular biology in college.
“That’s why the Howard Hughes program was important to me,” she says. “It definitely showed me that I really want to work in research.”
Leventhal has begun her college search and she has been looking at schools with strong biology programs such as Johns Hopkins and Emory.
At Gulliver, Leventhal is keeping busy with her classes in the International Baccalaureate program, including three high level courses in English, history and biology. Biology is the one that she focuses most of her energy on. However, she also takes Advanced Placement Art. She likes to combine math and art in her work through the use of shapes and colors.
Leventhal is involved in the Teach for America program, so she goes to Holmes Elementary on Saturday mornings to work with a student named Ivan, who is now in fourth grade.
“When I first worked with Ivan, he would read a page or paragraph, then he’d give the book to me to read,” she says.
But since then, Ivan has moved from small, beginner books to larger, more difficult books.
“Now his favorite book to read is Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” she says.
Being a part of the program has made a big impact on her. She was not expecting community service to affect her the way it has. She said she had expected community service to involve things like helping a teacher clean a room or participating in fundraising walks.
“But when I did Teach for America and began my interaction with Ivan, watching him grow — that means so much more to me than participating in a walk,” she says. “It taught me that I could make a difference somewhere. I can be a part of the community rather than just living in it, I can help someone else learn.”
Her extracurricular activities this year include being a member of the board of Health Interested Students of America (HISA). “We help raise awareness for diabetes,” she says.
“We hold fundraisers and conduct blood drives.”
HISA also participates in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Walk.
Leventhal also is treasurer for Mu Alpha Theta and participates in the group’s math competitions.
In the past, she volunteered at a ceramics studio in the Falls area called Tea Thyme where she helped kids paint and make ceramics.
“That was a lot of fun. It was like Teach for America because it was me connecting with someone else and making a difference,” she says.
“Especially when they smile up to you and you know you’ve helped them feel confident and accomplished.”
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld