From playing with ant farms and science tool kits to working in clinical labs, Michelle Wong has been involved in and enthusiastic about science since she was a toddler. Her grandfather, Miguel Ruelan Senior, was one of the first professors at Camden County College and chairman of the chemistry and physics departments from 1967 to 1970. He is a great inspiration to Michelle and she follows his formula for success: “set short and long-term goals and make plans to accomplish them. Do it with a positive attitude and perseverance, and use a lot of common sense,” she says.
Michelle is a 2010 alumnus of Highland High School in Blackwood, New Jersey, and was an extremely active student. She held multiple leadership roles, such as president of the National Honor Society and a biology and chemistry tutor. She also worked part-time jobs and volunteered in hospitals. In her sophomore year, Michelle became a volunteer worker at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “I spent my summers at Penn as a student volunteer and gained such remarkable experiences in a vast array of departments, but none so worth-mentioning as my time in the Emergency Room. There, I was asked to observe a surgery in the Operation Room and it forever changed my life. It was here that I think my fascination for medicine truly began,” she says.
After graduating high school, Michelle moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to attend Temple University as a biochemistry major. “It was hard to find my niche, between balancing course work and being involved in extracurricular activities, so I decided to transfer to a school that would satisfy my needs,” she says. In September 2012, Michelle transferred to Rutgers University–Camden and felt a sense of belonging. She changed her major to biology and instantly sought out opportunities to get involved. Under the guidance of Dr. Kwangwon Lee, Associate Professor of Biology, Michelle co-founded Rutgers–Camden’s Biology Club and served as a Government Accountability Office (GAO) Representative for the biology club. As a GAO member, she voiced ideas and opinions that would bring equal opportunities to the student body. During Michelle’s involvement, the club hosted luncheons and initiated conversations about current topics in biology. “It is great to see that the club is still active and has expanded since then. More people are involved and non-biology majors are showing interest,” she says.
In 2012, Michelle conducted research under Dr. Lee and Dr. John Dighton, Professor of Biology. She studied the genetic and molecular traits of fungi and the effects light had on them. She furthered the research by studying the ecology of soil at the Rutgers University Pinelands Field Station, and how it affected the plant growth of the particular fungi that grew in it. “This research project allowed me to get hands-on lab work experience for the first time, and it showed me that humans are just a minor organism in a great world. I didn’t get the picture until I started digging in dirt,” says Michelle.
Within the ecosystem at Rutgers–Camden, Michelle positively grew as a member Sigma Delta Tau sorority. The sorority’s goal is to empower women through scholarship, sisterhood, and leadership. One of their major philanthropies is to create awareness and fund raise for the Prevent Child Abuse America organization. Michelle’s work win this endeavor increased her passion to work with children as a pediatrician. “Sigma Delta Tau showed me that self-confidence is more than appearance. The principles I have learned helped shape my mindset and performance in professional environments,” says Michelle.
In 2012, Michelle worked as a Unit Secretary in the Emergency Room of Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Sewell, New Jersey, and was one of the youngest workers there. “Working at Kennedy really helped me mature. I learned to separate work from my feelings, but I also learned how to stand up for myself,” she says. After a year, Michelle searched for new experiences and found training to be a telemetry technician, a person who records and transmits readings of hospital equipment used on patients, at Virtua Hospital in Marlton, New Jersey. “Telemetry was entirely new to me, but it inspired me in thinking of becoming a cardiovascular pediatrician,” says Michelle. In 2014, Michelle graduated from Rutgers–Camden and continued working as a telemetry technician for Virtua and Kennedy Memorial Hospital. After graduation, she did not know what her next steps would be, she ultimately decided to attend graduate school.
In 2015, Michelle enrolled into Thomas Jefferson University for their biomedical sciences master’s program. “Graduate school is tough, but I believe it is giving me great preparation for medical school,” she says. While in school, Michelle also works as a clinical research specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. “I love science and learning, but, overall, I love how it pushes me closer to people in learning and professional environments,” she says. Michelle volunteers during the Philadelphia Science Festival to promote science and attends Rutgers–Camden’s open house events as an alumni representative to share her academic and professional experiences. “I believe going in to the science field was the best decision I have made. I strive to learn more and science continues to advance due to new discoveries and technology. We are a perfect match and I hope other students can find the same passion,” she says.
Written by Courtney Daniels