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Testing Skills

Alumnae working as lab technicians conducting coronavirus tests

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Susana Romero, ’20, felt helpless as she stayed home to prevent the spread of the disease. But Romero already had the skills to make a difference, thanks to her Bridgewater State University biology degree. Now she’s putting them to use.

The Peruvian immigrant is working on coronavirus testing at the Broad Institute, a Cambridge-based collaboration between Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute for Technology.

“It feels like we’re doing something important during this uncertain time,” she said. “I think it’s the least I could do.”

Romero and other BSU alumni working on coronavirus testing may even process samples from their former classmates. The Broad Institute conducts testing for more than 100 colleges and universities including Bridgewater State. It also conducts tests for Massachusetts’ Stop the Spread initiative in communities with high levels of COVID-19 cases. The institute has completed more than 4 million tests since March.

“I really wanted to help as many people as I could, and this was a great way to do it,” said Tesserae (Hannah) LaSalle, ’20, another alumna working on testing.

LaSalle, who studied chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry and minored in biology, praised the research opportunities they enjoyed while at Bridgewater with Drs. Samer Lone and Thaya Paramanathan. LaSalle learned scientific techniques that are useful today and how to work as part of an interdisciplinary team. Dr. Tammy King’s advanced instrumentation class also proved invaluable.

“She taught me to be detail oriented and specific and mindful,” LaSalle said. “That has helped me a tremendous amount with this job.”

LaSalle and Romero graduated with hands-on knowledge working with samples and polymerase chain-reaction tests, skills that serve them well in the workplace.

“We were exposed to the same processes used to do coronavirus tests, so that really helps,” Romero said. “I was exposed to everything I needed in order to be successful at my job.”

Romero plans to attend medical school, possibly to study emergency medicine, with the goal of diversifying the profession.

“I’ve noticed through personal experience there is a lack of Hispanic or Spanish-speaking physicians in the U.S.,” she said. “That really hinders the Hispanic community from reaching out and asking about illnesses.”

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