NHCC student named, Aviel Gradinar

International Day of Women and Girls in Science was celebrated yesterday on February 11! NHCC is proud to celebrate the women who are blazing the trail and shaping the future of science. In honor of this special day, we’d like to introduce you to, Aviel (Avi) Gradinar a current biology student at NHCC. Avi shares her hopes for the future and how she found her passion for biology.

Get to know Avi in the Q&A, below!

NHCC student, Aviel watering plants in the Tessman Greenhouse

How long have you been a student at NHCC?
My first semester was in the spring of 2020. I’m enrolled in NHCC’s biology transfer pathway and I am mostly complete. There are lots of classes that interest me though, so I will be around longer than I anticipated, but I don’t mind! 

Will you graduate in May of 2024?
Technically, I could graduate in May. But after volunteering full time most of last year, I decided to extend my stay at NHCC. My dad started a nonprofit in 2022; so I paused my classes and helped him out, since there was a lot of work. (There is still a lot of work to do, but my education is important too! I have to think for my future, but it feels good to help). 

What kind of nonprofit is it?
My dad is a prosthetist; he works making prosthetic arms and legs. My family is from Ukraine and he wanted to do something for the Ukrainians after the war started, but he didn't know what to do. One day he heard that there were a lot of amputees in need, and that's how he cofounded a nonprofit called, Protez Foundation. Most of my family is heavily involved in the foundation. We have completed prosthetics for about 150 amputees already, but we have over 1,500 people on the waitlist (mostly soldiers, civilians and children). In 2023, we brought 53 students from Ukraine here through the Protez Academy, facet of our nonprofit. By collaborating with prosthetists, physical therapists, and surgeons; our main goal is to educate and share the systematic knowledge that we have here in the US. I probably don’t even realize fully, how much I have benefited from the experiences I've gained with the nonprofit. Working with people affected by the war, gave me a peek into their lives. It was interesting and very eye opening. These people have had their lives changed drastically and not for the better, but they show us how they're able to keep living with a renewed strength and spirit.

What are you studying at NHCC?
Currently, I'm on the biology transfer pathway and I'm working on finishing my organic chemistry and physics classes at NHCC. I enjoy learning how to connect processes and found genetics class to be really fun. I already took all of the classes that Dr. Mans teaches and it was a blast! I really like molecular biology and genetics! I mostly find anything interesting. If there's something to learn, I usually do it. But I'm still figuring out what I want to do in the future. At this point, I just take pleasure in the process.

How did you choose to enroll in our biology transfer pathway?
I chose the biology transfer program, because I would like to transfer to the U of MN. I did consider the Bemidji partnership, but their program is only for biology, not more specific topics like molecular biology, or biochemistry, and also most of their classes are online. For me, I find online science classes to be a little hard. I like having my classes in-person; it is much, much better in-person. I have learned to like lab work and I don’t find it to be too stressful. It just takes a system. You can't work frantically, or mess stuff up. I did make some mistakes and I learned to be patient. I’ve had to read a lot of things over and over again in order to really grasp everything. Lab work can be challenging and time consuming! It's nice to get it right off the bat, but in science classes, we don’t really learn anything new when everything goes smoothly!

Would you say genetics has been your favorite class at NHCC?
So far, yes! Genetics and organic chemistry. Both for similar reasons. I can learn the interactions of molecules at the tiniest level. And then zoom out and see the results of the molecular actions. But favorite isn’t a good word, because each class has its own interesting part. In the spring of 2022, I did an out-of-class-project/experiment with Dr. Mans. The project had to do with testing a mutant enzyme and comparing its activity to wild-type. Then we created a mutation and linked everything else to it. That project prepared me for genetics class. I think enzymes and amino acids are really cool, so maybe I’ll specialize in that in the future.

Have you always enjoyed science?
I always thought science was cool, but I found a lot of other school subjects to be interesting, too! I’d often stay after class and talk to my science teachers. When we did labs in biology class, I definitely found that to be more fun than my other classes. But weirdly enough, I didn’t come to NHCC thinking I would be studying science. I debated between taking business, or liberal arts classes. I thought about going into international business, because you have so much variety there! You can do practically anything and be involved in any kind of subject, while having access to everything! But that changed once I realized I had to take a biology class. So, I took a biology class, in-person with Dr. Mans. Everything just clicked and it was fun! To me, it was like figuring out a puzzle. I know not everyone sees biology that way, like it's harder for some people. Or, some people might like chemistry more. But in combining the two, you just keep peeling away layers and it leads you deeper into the next topic. After that first biology class, even though I was scared, I thought, ‘This is interesting. Let’s try it out!’ And I kind of dove headfirst from there into biochem. I would stay after class, asking Dr. Mans questions about her genetics lessons. I found it all to be so interesting! During that time,  Dr. Mans asked me if I wanted to get involved in her out-of-class experiment and I said, "Sure!" After that, I signed up for the LSSURP (Life Science Summer Undergraduate Research Program) summer program at the University of Minnesota. I was accepted into the program and that's what I did in the summer of 2022. It was a very informative program! I learned that a dual MD-PhD exists, which I considered doing briefly. It would be cool to do my own research and have a doctorate in the future. I’m not sure what subject I’d do, but going for a PhD doesn’t scare me. I wouldn't say simply, ‘I believe in myself,’ because again, I’m an overthinker. But the direct involvement of writing the dissertations from my own experiments would help. It's just more school, right? I've done this much. I can do more. On the other side, business is always an option in the science field. I mean, it’s literally endless with directions in which you could go!

Is there a big goal that you are working to achieve?
That’s the question I keep asking myself these days. I think I do want to make a conscious difference in the world and it is important to me to make an impact. Oftentimes scientific work doesn’t get noticed during that person’s lifetime; and after realizing that, I kind of relaxed a little bit! As an overthinker, I’m always thinking, ‘I need to do something,’ ‘I need to show something’ and ‘Somehow I need to contribute to the world.’ I feel like I have a major ‘It’s all or nothing’ mindset and I can’t limit my ideas. I believe if we think beyond something small and think to do something bigger, even if we don’t achieve it, we’ll still go farther than we were able to if we had small goals.

What has NHCC helped you to accomplish?
If there was no community college, I'm not sure where I would be! I was not a good student in high school and I wouldn’t have gone a university right away. It’s not that I was a bad student. I've always loved learning, but I didn't do a lot of my homework in high school and my grades took a hit. When I was done with high school, I was unsure and didn’t know what to do next. I didn’t think a university would accept me, I didn’t know what to do, and I was sort of lost during that time. So, I started to take a few classes here at NHCC! If I wouldn’t have done that, I think I’d still be lost and I'm not sure where I would be today. Even though I am still figuring everything out, going to school here and taking classes gave me a path to stay on. And at NHCC, I learned how to be a better student… (Still learning actually!) Becoming a better student happened through trial and error and with help from the science professors here who pushed me in the right direction. I've also been involved for some time with the Biomedical Science Club, making the flyers and doing the advertisements. That also showed me how important it is for students to be involved in extracurriculars. Maybe it will take a good chunk of your time and maybe you will have to spend some money. That includes giving up some time from making money, to do things which might require you to do it for free. But, if you won’t push yourself and work on the ideas that you have, then who will?

Thank you so much, Avi for participating in our Q&A! We wish you the best of luck as you continue your education in the sciences, both at NHCC and beyond! 

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