As she uncapped her marker and began writing on the wall, any nerves Amberly Mendes had about her presentation—a talk about non-small cell lung cancer mutations given to a room full of students and faculty members in the University of Pennsylvania’s radiation oncology program—were replaced with a confident smile.

Though she had only been working with the disease in her clinical research internship for about a month, Mendes relished the opportunity to connect with colleagues.

“I had never heard of a ‘chalk talk’,” she says. “It’s a presentation without a PowerPoint. You only have a whiteboard, so you illustrate while you talk. It was a great experience and such a creative way to share information.”

Jumping into new things is second nature for Mendes. It’s a mindset that’s allowed her to experiment and grow—starting out as a business student at her vocational high school before choosing to study biology at Suffolk—picking up skills as she refines her plans.

“In high school, I realized that business really wasn’t my passion, but I learned communication and presentation skills I use all the time now to talk about my research,” she says.Amberly Mendes in the UPenn lab this summer

Mendes had an opportunity to do that this spring at the American Society of Microbiology Conference in New Orleans, where she and her mentor, biology professor Celeste Peterson, presented their joint research on bacteria. She also received the society’s capstone fellowship award, which paid for her travel expenses and provided professional development coaching on topics like how to network with other scientists. The honor came only a few months after Mendes received a life sciences award at the McNair Scholars national conference.

The competitive internship program Mendes is participating in this summer at the University of Pennsylvania allows her to sample classes and find even more chances to hone her communication skills—like presenting her findings in the chalk talk. 

One opportunity Mendes pursued when she came to Suffolk, volunteering with children and families in Massachusetts General Hospital’s pediatric unit, has had a profound impact on her future plans:

“Sometimes I’ll have a tough day and feel stressed, but then I volunteer with a three-year-old patient in the hospital who’s just excited to show me his favorite trucks. It puts things in perspective and pushes me to do more.”

Now Mendes is working toward a career in medicine, using her summer internship to develop her clinical research chops and meet older students following the same path.

Wherever Mendes’ life takes her, two things are certain: she will never stop pushing herself, and she will always strive to make a difference.

“I get the most out of giving back,” she says. “To me that’s what Suffolk is about—giving back, no matter what you do.”Amberly Mendes with her mentor, biology professor Celeste Peterson

Amberly Mendes presented her Suffolk lab research with her mentor, biology professor Celeste Peterson, at the American Society of Microbiology Conference in New Orleans