When she first came to Salve Regina, Rhiannon Morrissey ’16, who majored in biology with minors in chemistry and history, had no idea just how much the University would influence her future career path. Now, as she pursues a Ph.D. at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Morrissey still attributes everything she’s gained since from her time at Salve Regina.
“Salve is such a special school to begin with, and I think that Salve formed so much of who I am,” she said. “The Pell Honors Program was one of the big parts of my experience, and I couldn’t be happier that I took part in the program.”
Originally from Massachusetts, Morrissey chose Salve Regina because she loved the beautiful campus and small class sizes. “I got the feeling that you get a more intimate class environment than you would at a bigger school,” she said. “And I loved that the purpose of the Pell Honors Program is to push students to overcome the boundaries of what they think is possible. The curriculum is designed to develop you to think in new ways and new perspectives, and that really influenced me.”
Morrissey was right about her initial hunch that Salve Regina would challenge her. The small classes connected her with a faculty member who invited her to begin doing research during her first year. As a result, Morrissey was an undergraduate research fellow throughout her time at the University, even though she never imagined that research would be something she was passionate about.
Through one of her research opportunities, Morrissey studied the effectiveness of natural plant compounds on stopping the growth of stomach cancer. This sparked an interest in cancer research as a potential career.
“That’s one of the things that made Salve so special for me – the fact that you have more opportunities than you would at larger institutions to be involved in your research,” she said. “When I came to [my Ph.D. program], I had some colleagues that went to bigger schools, and their research was following around a graduate student and helping with their project. But at Salve, I was an undergraduate driving my own research.”
The opportunity to perform research at the undergraduate level led Morrissey to a career in biomedical science as a breast cancer geneticist, and she now works full-time on her research while pursuing her doctorate. “I loved research so much that I couldn’t give it up, so it changed my whole career path,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Salve and the Pell Honors Program.”