Lorena Lazo de la Vega ’14

Lorena Lazo de la Vega ’14DEGREES: B.S. in biochemistry; Ph.D. in molecular and cellular pathology, University of Michigan (UM)

JOB TITLE: Clinical genomics curation scientist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI)

FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: I was an RA for three years and enjoyed RA training. During this time, campus leaders gathered to prepare for students to move back to campus. I truly enjoyed working with my team of RAs to decorate the dorm, make nametags, plan activities, and even act out mini crisis scenarios. While the days were long, I always learned something new. The activities got me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to great people, including one of my best friends. It brought together like-minded people who may not have met otherwise since we all had different majors.

What do you do at Dana Farber? I work in the Pediatric Oncology Department. I have always been interested in pediatric cancers and having an impact in that area. After working on cancer genomics at UM during my Ph.D. training and clinical genetics during my postdoc at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I knew it was time to pursue a position in the pediatric space. I’m working on a consortium study led by DFCI that includes more than 10 academic centers across the country. The study’s goal is to assess the overall survival of pediatric patients with refractory or recurrent solid tumors who have undergone molecular profiling and matched to a targeted therapy. Once the patients consent to have their tumor and germline DNA analyzed for the presence of cancer-related abnormalities, a pathology report is generated using this sequencing results. My role is to then assess the major genomic alterations, identify the likely drivers of the cancer, recommend a targeted therapy, and identify clinical trials for which the patient is eligible. Since most who enroll in this study have rare pediatric tumors, I lead discussions with experts on the best treatment available to the patient. I’m exceedingly passionate about advancing precision medicine and feel lucky to be part of this important effort at DFCI.

You co-founded the Trinity College BIPOC Network on LinkedIn. Why is this important to you? The Trinity College BIPOC Network was initiated in summer 2020 and run by four Trinity alums, including me. After all the events that took place in the summer of 2020 and the remarks on social media from students of color regarding their experience at Trinity, I looked back on my experience as a Latina at Trinity and in other primarily white spaces. I immigrated to the USA at age 5, spent most of my childhood in Hartford, knew I had to create my own path to success, and yet still became the first in my family to graduate college. While at Trinity, I was so focused on graduating and catching up to my peers that I never had the opportunity to shake off the feeling of being part of the “other.” After many years, I learned to embrace my background. I finally started feeling proud of being a Latina and of everything I’ve been able to accomplish. Since I always searched for mentorship, I now want to mentor students and younger alums of color who have similar struggles and motivate them to pursue their true passion and achieve their potential. As a co-founder of the BIPOC Network, I hope that this community we are building will provide students with a support system many alums of color feel we lacked at Trinity.

What was the most memorable course you took at Trinity? My first-year seminar with Alison Draper. I was part of the Interdisciplinary Science Program (ISP), and it was one of the most intense courses I ever took at Trinity. My first semester was filled with sleepless nights, critical thinking, and lots of writing. While it was a challenging course, it helped me grow as a person and scientist. The course also introduced me to research and led me to pursue a graduate degree.

Was there a professor at Trinity who was particularly influential? I was lucky to be surrounded by many wonderful professors in the Chemistry Department. However, Alison Draper and Michelle Kovarik were two who greatly impacted my life. They challenged me in and out of the classroom, saw my potential, and were amazing mentors. Professor Draper was there all four years to offer advice and had an important role when I was deciding between graduate programs. I only got to work with Professor Kovarik during my senior year, but her passion and dedication for teaching and her students were undeniable. I distinctly remember when the class of first-semester seniors expressed concern over the lack of a senior seminar for biochemistry and chemistry majors. After hearing our concern, we worked together to draft a syllabus and submit a request to the Chemistry Department to allow us to add a seminar to our second semester. This was a perfect example of the advantages of attending a small liberal arts institution!