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KGI Student Dedicates Knowledge of Genetic Information to Helping Children

CLAREMONT, Calif. – Taylor Dean, MSGDA ’20, became fascinated by genetics while learning about chromosomes during middle school, and her interest never waned. Today she is a second-year student in the Master of Science in Human Genetics and Genomic Data Analytics (MSGDA) program at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) seeking to use her knowledge of genetic information in a career focused on pediatric care.

“I plan to go on to higher education in clinical care to become a nurse practitioner or physician assistant specializing in genetics,” says Dean. “This is the culmination of all the experiences I’ve had.”

Before coming to KGI, Dean was a study research assistant and interacted with teenagers with Type 1 diabetes at Boston Children’s Hospital. That was where her career goal began to crystalize.

“I always wanted a career in genetics but hadn’t been sure where I wanted to go with it,” explains Dean. “At Children’s Hospital, I worked with patients and loved that. I also talked with a nurse practitioner who worked with children with a genetic predisposition to cancer, and a switch went off for me. All the pieces came together.”

This summer, Dean was able to complete an internship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and her mentor there encouraged her to stay on for her MSGDA capstone project. Now she is assessing whether genetic information about mutations in the tumors of children with cancer can be used to help determine better treatment plans.

Dean’s work for St. Jude also led to her being awarded a scholarship from the Fletcher Jones Foundation for her second year of studies at KGI. The scholarship is given to a master’s student in any program who is interested in pursuing a career in the nonprofit or government sectors.

“The scholarship is providing $25,000 for tuition, which is an awesome opportunity,” says Dean, noting that it will help her save for her future clinical education.

Though Dean is pursuing research outside KGI, she is also active on campus. She is a teaching assistant to Barbara Fortini, the assistant professor of genetics who serves as MSGDA program coordinator. Dean is also a peer mentor to the new group of first-year MSGDA students and involved in KGI’s Rare Disease Club, the student chapter of the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).

“That has fueled me to work with patients whose diseases may or may not be involved in their genetics,” she says of her participation in the Rare Disease Club.

This doesn’t surprise Fortini, who expects Dean to have great success in her professional career. Fortini notes that Dean has a strong understanding of the technical aspects, scientific concepts, and practical applications of her coursework at KGI. She adds that Dean’s experiences at Boston Children’s Hospital and St. Jude also give her an understanding of both the systemic challenges people with undiagnosed rare diseases face and the environment for research in childhood disease.

“Taylor has the skills and perspective to chart her own course,” says Fortini. “She is a wonderful student and certainly has the energy, focus, capabilities, and drive to use her genetic knowledge to help others. I am excited to see what she does in the future.”