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Full Circle: Alumna Inspires Students to Pursue Science Careers

Posted on 7/28/2021 9:44:39 AM

Jackie Gerhart (ʼ87, MSʼ02), laboratory coordinator at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), is helping connect Cabrini students with internship opportunities like the one that launched her PCOM career more than 30 years ago.

“In my lab, we’ve had Cabrini science students helping us with our research since 1990,” Gerhart said. “They’re coming in with a strong science background.”

Gerhart started at PCOM just a few months after earning her Cabrini Biology degree in 1987 and today helps to facilitate basic and clinical research in the bio-imaging facility she manages there. Osteopathic medicine of the sort taught at PCOM aims to prevent illness and injury by using a comprehensive approach that assesses the whole person and the body’s interconnected systems.

For the past three summers, Cabrini and PCOM have partnered to offer African American and Hispanic male students majoring in Biology, Chemistry, or Psychology the opportunity to participate in a unique eight-week summer research program at PCOM.

“There’s a lack of representation for people of color in medicine,” Gerhart said. “We want to encourage this group to pursue a career in medicine so more patients can see staff who look like them.”

This summer, students working under Gerhart researched brain tissue samples to learn if bacterial or viral infections might create certain plaques, or clusters of protein fragments, within the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s.

Mark Martin (ʼ21), who double majored in Chemistry and Biology, enthusiastically recommends the PCOM internship to interested Cabrini students. He became a full-time employee at PCOM this summer, following two internships in Gerhart’s bio-imaging lab.

“Working with Jackie is remarkable—not only is she my supervisor, but she is also a mentor,” Martin said. “During my initial experience, she introduced me to numerous people on PCOM’s campus, which helped me to discover my interest in medicine.”

Gerhart said Martin has been a mentor to some of his fellow Cabrini interns, as well as to local high school students who have visited the lab for learning experiences.

“Not only are they smart, but they also get along great with other people,” Gerhart said of her Cabrini interns. “It seems they want to mentor [others].”

Like the interns who come to PCOM with previous hands-on lab experience thanks to their Cabrini coursework, Gerhart said her own Biology coursework at Cabrini consisted of advanced courses that prepared her to step into a professional role out of college. She later returned to her alma mater to advance her career further, earning a Master of Organizational Leadership in 2002.

“I’m now a supervisor with 14 people under me,” Gerhart said. “[The Leadership degree] gave me skills to interact with people, encourage their work development, and provide them with the skills they need to advance their careers.”

She has strived to foster a supportive environment like the one created by faculty while she completed her two degree programs on campus.

“I think that was part of my education at Cabrini—just seeing how everyone supported each other,” Gerhart said. “The faculty were accessible and genuinely nice, and I want that to happen here [at PCOM].”

Gerhart said she hopes to see more Cabrini students in her lab in the coming semesters.

“The way science is going to survive is bringing in new fresh ideas to the field,” Gerhart said.