Kristin Elizabeth Poti, ’14

Hometown: Worcester, MA

Degree: BS, Biology
BA, Humanities & Arts with a concentration in Spanish

Why did you choose to attend WPI?
Growing up in Worcester, I knew that WPI was a great institution that specialized in sciences, math, and engineering. However, it was not until I toured the campus the summer before my senior year of high school, that I fell in love with WPI and all the opportunities it had to offer, in terms of both academics and student life. I was drawn to the seven-week terms and the project-based learning. I liked the idea of hands-on learning both within your major (MQP) and in other areas of study (IQP). I wanted to major in Biology, and with Gateway Park and the collaboration with the University of Massachusetts Medical School, I knew that WPI was the perfect choice for me; the opportunities for research were endless. I also really liked the Humanities & Arts requirement, in that I could continue studying Spanish, another one of my passions. WPI instantly became my number one choice when applying to colleges, and I could not have made a better choice.

How has WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice, and working with teams, been beneficial to you during your time at WPI?
WPI’s philosophy of Theory and Practice has allowed me to apply what I am learning in the classroom to real life problems. It has given me invaluable hands-on experiences that will prepare me for the future. I love being part of an institution that not only teaches the material, but also gives its students a chance to apply what they have learned. Furthermore, working in teams at WPI has been a rewarding experience that has allowed me to interact with others and learn the skills needed to collaborate effectively. Teamwork and the ability to work together is key to success in today’s world. Science is collaborative work, so to be exposed to this as an undergraduate is extremely beneficial and something I enjoy.

What do you think are WPI’s greatest strengths?
One of WPI’s greatest strengths is the project-based curriculum, which allows students to act as problem solvers and tackle issues present in the real world. This is especially important in one’s major field and gives WPI students an advantage in their future careers. The Global Perspective Program, which offers many off-campus opportunities for Humanities & Arts, IQP and MQP projects, is another one of the many great resources WPI has to offer. In general, WPI’s greatest strengths lie in its faculty and students, both of which make this university one of the best.

How have the professors in your department impacted your studies and your life? 
The professors here at WPI are extremely knowledgeable and want to see their students succeed. They are passionate and motivate learning. I have had many positive experiences with professors who have inspired me, provided me with numerous research opportunities, and who have supported me throughout my time here at WPI. As a double major in Biology and Humanities & Arts, I have had the chance to work with professors from all disciplines, which has shown me that the professors here are truly some of the best.

One professor who has positively impacted both my studies as well as my life is Professor Aarti Madan. She has been my professor for multiple courses at WPI (which have been some of my favorites), advised me abroad, and is currently my advisor for my major in Humanities & Arts. I first met Professor Madan as a freshman, and ever since, she has been an incredible mentor, role model, and friend. She has shown me just how much I love pursuing Latin American and Hispanic Studies, and it was her passion for this area that influenced me to become a double major in Spanish at WPI. Working with and learning from Professor Madan has been a truly rewarding experience and she has provided me with so many opportunities to succeed. She has not only supported me academically, but her continued belief in my abilities has motivated and inspired me to be the best I can be.

What are your research projects?
I have been involved in several research projects as a student at WPI. As a sophomore, I conducted volunteer research alongside a graduate student in the lab of Professor Reeta Prusty Rao, which investigates fungal pathogenesis. The project involved studying small molecule signaling and its role in activating virulence, or causing disease, in the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

I am currently involved in a research project in the lab of Dr. Jennifer Benanti at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. I first began this project in the summer of 2012 and will further develop it over the next summer and into my MQP. I am studying deubiquitinating enzymes and their role in the cell cycle in yeast and relating this to their role in humans/human cancers. Cell cycle control regulates cell division, enabling cells to divide only when they receive the necessary signals. When the cell cycle is misregulated, excessive cell proliferation can occur, leading to many types of cancers. As a cell advances through the cell cycle, numerous proteins are synthesized and degraded. One of the most important controls of this cycle is the reversible process of ubiquitination, and the deubiquitinating enzymes work to counteract this process. Through my research, I aim to identify the targets and functions of these enzymes, which are currently poorly understood.

In B-term 2012, I completed my IQP in Costa Rica, as part of an interdisciplinary team that studied sustainable fishing in two small island communities and created socioeconomic profiles of these towns. We conducted surveys and interviews in Spanish with the community members to help our sponsor understand the effects of sustainable fishing on the local economies and the lifestyles of the people. Furthermore, we developed recommendations for our sponsor and the townspeople about approaches to improve the socioeconomic conditions of the two towns.

In both 2011 and 2012, I participated in the Buenos Aires Language and Cultural Immersion, advised by Professor Aarti Madan. We spent an amazing four weeks in Buenos Aires, living and breathing the Spanish language and Argentine culture. Upon returning to the United States, we crafted an independent research project on a particular aspect of Argentine history or culture, with the guidance of Professor Madan. I first investigated the well-known and controversial figure in Argentine history, Eva Perón. I delved into her relationship with the working class of Argentina in the age of Perón, comparing it to a mutualistic symbiotic relationship. The following year, I explored the 1976 military dictatorship and the Dirty War that ensued, which resulted in grave human rights violations and the disappearance of many Argentine citizens deemed “subversives.” I particularly examined its portrayal in a variety of cultural productions, including film, art, and the testimonio genre. I aimed to understand the impacts of these productions on their target audiences and how they provided lessons for change and a call for justice in the future of not only Argentina, but in all corners of the world.

What do you hope to do when you graduate? What would be your ideal job?
After graduating from WPI, I plan to attend graduate school and pursue a Ph.D. in molecular biology, conducting research involving cell cycle control or DNA and its structure and functions. I also aspire to run my own lab at a college or university, where I would like to actively participate in research and also mentor students who share my passion.

Groups or extracurricular activities you participate in at WPI:

  • WPI Women’s Club Lacrosse
  • Global Humanitarian Alliance
  • Students Promoting Animal Welfare

Academic or professional awards you have received:

  • 2013 Goldwater Scholarship Honorable Mention
  • Worcester Polytechnic Institute Dean’s List (Fall 2010, Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012, Fall 2012)
  • Herb Beall General Chemistry Award
  • Charles O. Thompson Scholar

Additional comments about WPI and/or your general experience:
WPI has provided me with more opportunities than I ever could have imagined. From studying abroad in Argentina and Costa Rica to participating in cutting-edge research at UMASS, I have loved every minute of my experience here. I have worked with amazing professors and students, who challenge me to achieve greatness. I am able to pursue studies in both Biology and Spanish, which are my true passions. I know that I am acquiring the skills, knowledge, and support needed to achieve my goals.

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