Gabby Salinas, St. Agnes Academy Class of 2007
Tell us a little about your experience since St. Agnes Academy?
I graduated from St. Agnes is 2007, and 007 was our Spirit week theme our Senior year! After graduation, I continued my Catholic education at Christian Brothers University (CBU), where I earned my B.S in Biochemistry. I graduated from CBU in 2011. I kicked off my research career in 2010, when I joined the Guy Lab at St. Jude in the Department of Chemical Biology and Therapeutics--it was a dream come true! These last eight years of my career have been so exciting because I love what I do! I am currently finishing my PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences under the mentorship of Dr. Guy. In addition, I recently took a trip to Australia to visit some of our collaborators at QIMR, where we are conducting one phase of our clinical trial.
Tell us about your career journey. What impacted your career decision?
My career journey is somewhat non-traditional. I am product of my times and what I have experienced. I grew up in the hospital: my first cancer diagnosis was when I was seven years old. I saw science at work everyday. Because of kids’ curiosity, I think they make great scientists! What cancer did for me was expose me to a lot of groundbreaking science. I wanted to know how everything worked. I asked the doctors and nurses a million questions: I wanted to know how the medicines worked; why were they taking my blood, and how did the blood test work? I was fascinated with science and patient care.
From a young age I knew I wanted to work in translational research. My path, from the outside, looks linear, but I explored several different options. There are many ways to do exciting research. I loved medicine, and for several years I thought that maybe medical school was the right path for me. Then, I picked up an interest in engineering because I thought that would be a fulfilling path, too. I finally landed in Chemical Biology and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and that was the perfect fit. I say all of this to say that sometimes it takes several tries to figure out the right career path for you. In addition to doing strong research, I knew I wanted to work in a field that helps people. I firmly believe that some of the most academically stimulating questions are found in tackling problems that face our most vulnerable populations.
You are currently running for state office. What motivated you to run?
The personal is political. I first got started in politics because as a cancer survivor, I found it hard to access health insurance because of having a pre-existing condition. While exploring my options, I found that I wasn't alone in this struggle. We have to do better. As a working scientist and health care advocate, I have the knowledge, skills, drive, and resilience necessary to improve our community and the state of Tennessee.
How did your years at St. Agnes Academy prepare you for college/career?
I loved the challenging schoolwork, especially in science. When I was a student, I set out to take as many science classes as possible. I took seven science classes, the requirement for graduation at the time was three. Mr. Tran and I serve on the CBU alumni board together, and during one of our meetings he told me about the new Biomedical Sciences program he started at SAA. I think it is wonderful because we definitely need more women in science.
How did attending an all-girls’ school affect you academically and personally?
I loved going to an all-girls ‘school! I think it helped me be successful in male- dominated fields. Women are the minority in both politics and science.
What is your favorite SAA tradition?
The raft trip!
What do the Dominican Pillars of Study, Prayer, Community and Service mean to you and how have they impacted your life since leaving St. Agnes?
The Dominican Pillars and the LaSallian tradition have a lot in common, and both have shaped how I live my life. The pillars challenge me to live a life of purpose and to think outside of myself. I could be the best scientist in the world, but it would mean nothing if I was not using my talents to help others. We all have talents, and I believe it is our moral obligation to put our talents to work to serve one another. Like Mother Teresa said, "we belong to each other."
Best St. Agnes Memory?
Going to state with the bowling team. I bowled my highest series at that tournament! We didn't win but we had a strong showing. It was the first time that St. Agnes went to state for bowling. Coach Adcock described the tournament as a spiritual experience, and I would agree. Many years after I graduated, SAA won the state tournament, I was so proud to hear the news.
Advice for current St. Agnes students?
Believe in yourself and don’t ask permission. You can do it! You will encounter people that will tell you that you can’t, but don’t listen to them. Believe in yourself and run confidently in the direction of your dreams. Prove them wrong.