Pat Fagan ’10 credits his education at Gilmour with helping him to think critically. As a sophomore biology major at the University of Notre Dame, he is considering medical school and has found the ability to think critically to be invaluable. He says, “When it comes to anything medical, it’s all about thinking on your feet, thinking things through, because you don’t want to just jump to the first conclusion.”
Fagan is putting his critical thinking skills to good use these days as he works on breast cancer research as part of a five-person team. The group’s mentor professor has been researching cancer cells’ ability to, at times, evade programmed cell death, a process called apoptosis, which happens on a daily basis to maintain healthy tissues. This process is regulated by many different proteins within the cell. However, mutations within the cells’ DNA, which can be caused by an oncovirus (cancer-causing virus) or a carcinogen, can alter these proteins, rendering them dysfunctional. Without this important mechanism, cells can grow, spread and proliferate in other parts of the body. The mentor professor found instances in which the apoptosis mechanism had been evaded and, yet, cellular death still occurred. Fagan and his partners are working on determining what that second method of cellular death is. If Fagan and his team can determine how to induce this second type of cell death in cancer cells, it could have big implications in the fight against cancer.
While Fagan loves the research end of science and excelled in his studies while at Gilmour and is now doing so at Notre Dame, he lives by the philosophy that the things you learn outside of the classroom can provide some of the best education. He loves working with people and, for this reason, is leaning toward going to medical school as opposed to following the research vein.
He hopes to gain some insight as to whether the medical profession is for him this summer when he works at Camp Sweeney, a summer camp just outside of Dallas, for children with Type 1 diabetes. In his role as activities counselor there, he will be in charge of four children for three weeks at a time (there are three separate three-week camp sessions). He will work with doctors at the camp to tailor the children’s meals, will help the children check their blood glucose levels, attend medical seminars with them and plan activities and events so they realize they can participate and have fun while managing their diabetes. On his days off from camp duties, Fagan plans to volunteer at the local hospital.
When asked what he remembers most about his time at Gilmour, Fagan is quick to credit Neena Goel with instilling his love of biology. She holds a Ph.D. and is an Upper School science instructor. Additionally, he believes the lessons he learned from Gay Janis, Speech and Drama Director at Gilmour, help him each day. He said she would never let him only look at the surface of an issue or a character, but, instead, forced him to dig deeper. Fagan believes this greatly improved his problem-solving and critical thinking skills which help him in all his work.