Berks' Saint-Fort to complete NIH fellowship in infectious disease

May 05, 2016

It has been a long and winding road from Haiti to graduation for Launick Saint-Fort, a biochemistry and molecular biology major. She came to the United States with her family when she was just 11 years old, and worked for a few years before enrolling in Penn State Berks. 

She explains that education was always a high priority for her and her family. “When you grow up in a place that is so poor, education is seen as the most probable escape from destitution. Most parents will do whatever they can to make sure their children get an education. For most, the dream is to come to America and get an education here.”

She states that she chose Penn State because of its international reputation for academic excellence, as well as its smaller class sizes and the opportunity to have closer relationships with her professors. Since enrolling at Penn State Berks, she has made academic excellence her mission.

Now, with graduation on the horizon, she will soon begin the next chapter — a 14-month, fully-funded fellowship at the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease in Bethesda, Maryland, where she will be investigating parasitic diseases. She explains that she was interested in working with this organization to gain more insight on the role of micro-organisms in infectious diseases, in particular, because Haiti experienced a cholera outbreak following the 2010 earthquake that took approximately 250,000 lives. She hopes to eventually go back and work on water purification projects in her native country.

Saint-Fort has been a very driven student during her time at the campus with a keen interest in science. She completed a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University at Buffalo-SUNY in August 2015. Her research, titled “The Separation of Photo-luminescent Carbon Dots via Capillary Electrophoresis Coupled to Laser Induced Fluorescence Detection,” was recognized as the best poster presentation, for which she received a travel award to present her research at the 251st ACS National Meeting in San Diego, California. Her research focused on capillary electrophoresis, an area with applications for fingerprinting, pharmaceutical work and protein characterization.

She also completed research with James M. Karlinsey, associate professor of chemistry at Penn State Berks, for an honors thesis titled “Electrophoretic Characterization of Borate Buffers in Glass Capillaries and Microfluidic Channels” and presented her findings at the 2016 PITTCON Conference & Expo in Atlanta, GA.

“Appreciating the science and understanding its broader impacts on society are crucial in order to keep moving forward. Otherwise the countless inevitable failures — which is the norm in science — can deter you from your goals,” said Saint-Fort. “Failure should not be seen as a negative outcome but rather an opportunity to learn and improve one’s self.”

In honor of her achievements, she has received many awards over the last four years. This year, she received the college’s Outstanding Internship/Co-op in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Award, the American Chemical Society Outstanding Graduating Senior Award, and the Penn State Schreyer Honors College Medal.

Her academic success has also been recognized by several organizations. She was one of 11 undergraduates to receive the National Institute of Health’s Undergraduate Scholarship Program Award of $20,000 toward her undergraduate education. In addition, she was a member of the American Chemical Society Scholars Program and one of 10 American Chemical Society Scholars endowment recipients in the United States.

During her time at the college, Saint-Fort has been a Schreyer Scholar, a member of the Penn State Berks Honors Program, an NIH Undergraduate Scholarship Program Scholar, treasurer and co-vice president of the Penn State Biology/Biochemistry Club, a member of the Penn State Berks Honors Club, as well as the recipient of multiple scholarships. She has also worked as lab assistant in chemistry and cell biology/biochemistry, a chemistry peer mentor, and a French and chemistry tutor at the Penn State Berks Learning Center. Saint-Fort has also completed a study abroad experience in Norway during the spring of 2015.

“It’s not where you are, it’s what you make of the resources — abundant or scarce — available to you. You can utilize the small campus aspect to your advantage,” said Saint-Fort about her time at Penn State Berks. “As a Berks student, I have been able to compete on a national level with students from Ivy League schools, which further reinforces that being at a small campus does not have to be a disadvantage.”

Saint-Fort also attributes her success to the exceptional guidance and mentorship of Karlinsey. “He has greatly contributed to my development in character, intellect and self-confidence — all of which are essential to succeed not only in science but in all areas of life,” she said.

She adds that her younger sister, Thian-Heyla Saint-Fort, is also a student at Penn State Berks, studying kinesiology.

When asked about her future plans, she said that she hopes to earn a doctorate in analytical chemistry and develop diagnostic devices to detect infectious diseases in the field, particularly in areas where resources are scarce. 

  • Launick in lab

    Launick Saint-Fort

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 05, 2016