A year after winning University Medal, Larissa Miyachi to attend Stanford Medical School

05/10/13

A year ago, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology major Larissa Miyachi earned the 2012 University Medal as UC Davis’ top graduating senior, joining a select group that includes the U.S. Treasury Department’s chief economist and the president of a university in Thailand.

After a summer interning at UC Davis Medical Center and a year interviewing at prospective medical schools, Miyachi will carry the medal winners’ tradition of excellence forward at Stanford University, where she will begin her medical studies in the fall.

Miyachi said that Stanford feels like the perfect fit for her because the program strongly encourages students to integrate all aspects of their lives into their medical studies.

“One of the things that stood out to me about Stanford is how they really embrace creativity,” Miyachi said. “I loved research through undergrad at UCD and hope to continue participating in research in medicine, but I also love creative writing and art. Stanford encourages students to integrate all of their interests and skills into their medical school experience.”

Miyachi has spent a few years collaborating with Molecular and Cell Biology professor Sean Burgess, writing a creative study guide that contains letters from an older, experienced DNA strand to a newly coded strand.

“It’s molecular-fiction-slash-study-supplement,” she said. “I write in the voice a senior strand of DNA, giving advice to a newly encoded one in a different chromosome. Each of them has a unique personality and name, and the older strand is teaching the younger one what it means to be a chromosome.”

“We hope to introduce the letters into her advanced molecular biology class, to help undergraduates understand key aspects of the cell cycle from the perspective of the DNA,” Miyachi said. While growing up in the rural Sierra Nevada foothills, Miyachi loved exploring the oak woodland surrounding her home and raising her family’s dairy goats. Each spring was filled with the anticipation of newborn goats to tend and rear, and it was Larissa’s love of animal care that first drew her into science. Home-educated her entire childhood, Larissa graduated from high school at age seventeen and enrolled at Yuba Community College, where she completed the first two years of her undergraduate education.

Larissa excelled in her science courses at Yuba College and, realizing that she could make a positive impact in peoples’ lives through scientific research, transferred to UC Davis in Fall 2010 to work towards a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

While at UC Davis, Larissa had the privilege of pursuing scientific research under the mentorship of Professor Ting Guo and graduate student Zane Starkewolf in the Department of Chemistry. As she participated in a project aimed at improving chemotherapy delivery and efficacy, Miyachi discovered her desire to engage personally with those whose lives she could touch and so chose to pursue medicine.

In addition to opening doors for her own career, Miyachi has discovered that the University Medal provides opportunities such as the chance to encourage young women to enter the sciences.

“Without the medal I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to encourage those who come after me,” Miyachi said. “At the end of this month I’ll be speaking at a conference by the American Association of University Women for eighth-grade girls at my community college. I’ll get to speak to several hundred girls about how it’s possible to be a woman and be successful in the sciences and medicine.”

Miyachi is looking forward to experiencing the wide range of medical specialties she will explore during her rotations later in medical school. Regardless of which specialty she ends up picking, she knows that her ultimate goal is to enhance people’s well-being.

“My hope is to leave each person I meet with the feeling that someone cares about them, whether now as medical student or in the future as a physician,” Miyachi said.

The University Medal, established by an anonymous donor in 1965, recognizes a graduating senior for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society. Today, the award includes a plaque with an inlaid medal and a $2,000 honorarium.