The RCS District continues to shares stories of alumni and the work they are doing in their communities. Today’s installment features Class of 2011 graduate Kristen Wallace. Read more about her time in the RCS District and how she chose her pathway to a career in science with Regeneron. Which 4C pathway will you choose to select your future: Critical Thinking? Creativity? Collaboration? Communication?
Remember, if you have alumni that you’d like for us to highlight, please share it with the RCS Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s our Q&A with RCS alumna Kristen Wallace.
How did RCS prepare you for college? What classes or specific teachers led you to be successful?
No one is ever fully prepared for college, especially when going to a college away from home. However, RCS prepared me in more ways than one for my life post high school. One of my main takeaways from my time at RCS is time management skills. “No one is going to hold your hand in college,” is something I remember teachers saying often. If there is work to be done, it is up to you to get it done right and on time. As an athlete in both school and travel sports, I had a very small window for homework and studies in between practice five days a week, games three days a week, with a tournament on the weekend. Having such a packed schedule taught me to how prioritize my schoolwork while also giving my all to my team in every game. Secondly, RCS taught me to challenge myself and not get discouraged. I was a good student, but not the best, who really struggled with math and was not a good test taker. I took three AP classes between my Junior and Senior year, even though I knew I wouldn’t test high enough receive college credit for the courses. Additionally, knowing I wanted to have a career in science, I even doubled up on science classes taking a class or two as Independent Studies. In college, I continued to struggle with math and test taking, but I didn’t let it get in the way of the ultimate goal; becoming a scientist. Although these years were difficult, I had immense support from my family to keep pushing and while some teachers doubted my capabilities in a career in science, there were many who encouraged my success.
Out of all of the amazing teachers at RCS, there was one in particular that changed my entire outlook on what I wanted to do career wise. I went my entire life wanting to be a teacher for young children, which is what I anticipated going to college for. It wasn’t until my Sophomore year taking Chemistry with Mr. Dykeman that my brain did a 180 and I began the path that led me to the career that I have today as a QC Reference Standard Analyst at Regeneron. Mr. Dykeman was my teacher for regular Chemistry, AP Chemistry, and Forensic Science and honestly, if there were more classes I could have taken with him, I would have. The idea that everything in the universe could be explained through science, and that science could be used to solve crime, was absolutely fascinating to me. My mild obsession with the TV show CSI probably helped a little, but this resulted in me wanting to be a Forensic Scientist more than anything. The moment my life changed was when Mr. Dykeman showed the class a book by Henry Lee on different high-profile cases he had worked on. A quick Google Search of Henry Lee lead me to the discovery of the University of New Haven in West Haven, CT and the rest is history.
What attracted you to a position at Regeneron? What are your responsibilities?
As a new college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science, I moved back home to New York in 2015 eager to find a job in my field. I spent two full years applying, doing phone interviews and traveling to different states for interviews, with nothing to show for it. I even provided my resume to a temp agency in the hopes that they could find me something. It was a very discouraging process, but I knew the jobs I was applying for were very competitive and that I would probably have to start small to get where I wanted to go. At the time, I worked as a preschool teacher (kind of ironic, right?), with a handful of the kids’ parents being employed by Regeneron. Aside from that, I had never heard of the company before. I began researching Regeneron and became very interested not only in the work they did, but the culture they displayed. A few weeks later, the temp agency called with an interview opportunity at Regeneron as a temporary employee for their QC Reference Standards department. Luckily for me, after about eight months as a temp, I got hired on as a full-time employee in the same group.
As a member of the Reference Standards department, I work in quality control to ensure the medicines we manufacture are safe and effective for patients. To do this, we qualify and manage reference standards, or controls, that our manufactured products are tested against to prove they are of the highest quality. This involves a combination of laboratory work, data analysis, document generation, and working cross-functionally with many groups in a very fast paced, ever-changing work environment.
What are your future goals moving forward? Proudest accomplishment?
I have two proudest accomplishments in my life so far, my internship and getting my job. When I went to my first orientation at the University of New Haven, there was a presentation about this new program they wanted to launch, the Italian Cohort Internship Program, where a handful of students would get to live in Italy for a month and have an internship at the University of Verona. I applied in hopes of getting it, but also was realistic about the fact that so many people were applying and that it was unlikely. I ended up being one of about twenty-four that were selected. My elective courses for my four years at UNH were geared towards Italian culture and language in preparation of living abroad. Once overseas, I was paired with this woman, Anna, who was studying toxicology and I worked with her for four weeks on drug extractions and analysis. In addition to the internship, we explored Verona, traveled to Florence and Venice, saw an opera at The Arena, and saw the most beautiful architecture among many other things. It was the most amazing experience of my life to date.
My second proudest accomplishment, although it seems silly, is getting my job at Regeneron. After two years of trying to find a job and all the chaos that goes with it, (my parents paying for and traveling with me to interviews in various states, me trying to prove to them that sending me to an expensive school was worth it), it was very hard to still remain positive that I would find a job even remotely in my field of study. I live in a world where everyone knows everyone and all they want to do is help. While that is a wonderful thing, sometimes it’s nice to do things on your own and not get an interview based on a recommendation by someone else. At the time, my family was going through a lot, so I decided to not tell anyone about my interview and just accept the fact that it was probably going to result in another “thanks, but no thanks”. I will never forget calling my mom, first apologizing that I didn’t tell her about the interview, but then crying that I FINALLY got a job. While I did not end up becoming a Forensic Scientist, I ended up with an amazing job, still as a scientist, with an amazing company that allows me to help people all around the world get the medications they need.
As far as future goals go, I plan to continue moving up in my current group at Regeneron and learning as much about the company as I can. As one can imagine, there is a lot of brain work and manpower that goes into manufacturing medications for patients and I intend on spending the next few years absorbing as much knowledge and experiences as I can.
What advice do you give to current RCS students to be successful?
First, you get out what you put in. Put in the work, get good grades, and always be thinking about what will go on your resume. Prior to meeting a potential employer, your resume is one sheet of paper that highlights a handful of things that make up the person you are, so make yourself desirable! Most places look for a solid GPA, a good work ethic, and a person with a good sense of community. High school is only the very beginning of your life and if done right, can set you up for amazing opportunities. Second, stay determined and don’t get discouraged. People these days crave instant gratification for everything in their lives, but that is not the way the world works.
Things take time. I could’ve given up after two years of job searching and I am forever grateful that I didn’t because I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today without pushing through just a little bit longer. Third, its ok to not know what you want to do, but do something. When I was in school, there was a big push for college, but not much else. Explore your college options, research jobs you think you might like, go to a trade school, or join the military. Find something that not only pays the bills, but also makes you happy. Lastly, don’t think of your time at RCS as “just high school.” Absorb as much knowledge and experience as you can and use them to guide you. Life goes by fast and before you know it you are 10 years out of high school wondering where the time went.