From the time Debbie Balthazar was seven years old she was enthralled by science. “I would watch the pediatrician like a detective,” she says. “I thought he had the coolest job in the world.” She was hooked on the television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” and when she was older on ABC’s “Medical Mysteries.” “I learned that science has a little bit of everything—elements of history, English and math.”
A biology major with an English minor, she sees those elements come together in her science classes at Caldwell University. “It is definitely academically challenging. I have good relationships with my teachers.”
Last summer Balthazar had the opportunity to intern at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine thanks to a partnership established by Dr. Barbara Detrick, an alumna of Caldwell University and professor of pathology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Detrick is an active member of the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health Diversity Summer Internship Program. During the past seven years, she has had an opportunity to work with many interns from schools across the country. Last year she initiated the connection between Caldwell and JH Bloomberg School of Public Health DSIP. “This program will provide Caldwell students the opportunity to participate as an intern and learn different aspects of public health and medicine as well as meet students from various areas in the U.S.A.,” says Dr. Detrick.
The 10-week internship program provides undergraduates with a graduate-level, independent research project in the biomedical or public health field. Students work with prominent researchers in departments throughout the JH Bloomberg School of Public Health and the School of Medicine and do everything from taking part in clinical laboratory experiences to studying the epidemiology of public health issues.
Balthazar, the first Caldwell student recommended for the program, was accepted and was assigned to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. She worked with the Maryland food-system map-project team researching food recovery and food waste. Her main responsibility was to categorize restaurants, transporters of leftover food, and recipient organizations. She learned about regulations and now passionately supports efforts to help businesses and organizations make food recovery and donation integral to their organizations. Her blog “How the Bill Emerson Act Can Reduce Wasted Food” was published by the Center for a Livable Future. She points out that, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, about 40 percent of the food in the United States is never eaten. Organizations want to donate leftover food to charities, but they often hit roadblocks or have been refused due to concerns over violating local health codes, Balthazar explains.
The internship program included public health awareness and professional development sessions. Balthazar also had an opportunity to visit Dr. Detrick’s immunology laboratory in Johns Hopkins Hospital. She completed a short rotation in the clinical laboratory and saw firsthand how a clinical immunology laboratory supports patients with immune-based diseases such as autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cancer. Dr. Detrick was “simply amazing” and provided excellent professional advice on what it is like for women working in medicine and science, says Balthazar. “Dr. Detrick is passionate about making sure doors open up for women in the biomedical world.”
“Debbie was conscientious, delightful and gracious in sharing her enthusiasm,” says Dr. Detrick. She hopes more Caldwell students apply for the internship. She wants students who have completed internships to walk away with a sustained interest in science and medicine, solid practical experience, and professional contacts who will support them with letters of recommendation.
Balthazar has already seen opportunities become available as a result of the internship. She presented her research at the Metropolitan Association of College and University Biologists conference on Nov. 8 and she started working as a biology and a writing tutor on campus.
While growing up, Balthazar always wanted to become a pediatrician, but now she is also considering a career as a science journalist, since many have commented on her writing abilities. The best part of the internship? “Being able to make people aware of the food recovery movement.” Through her research she heard many stories of homeless people without food or of people who do not have access to stoves or microwaves. “It was rewarding to think that we were helping people get food, even if it was just a drop in the bucket of change. I felt as though we accomplished something.” ?