As a high school freshman, she watched her younger sister, Marissa, then a seventh-grader, battle a rare blood disease, hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), and get chemotherapy treatments. When she heard that a bone marrow transplant might be a possibility, Miranda got tested to see if she’d be a match.
Learning that there wasn’t much research funding for HLH, Miranda, who was interested in biology at Lutheran High School in Chula Vista, Calif., did a summer internship at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) prior to her senior year. The project involved the mutation of an antibody that would stop blood vessel formation in cancer cells and tumors.
“Knowing there wasn’t much research going into (HLH) that sparked my interest and it’s never really left,” said Stratton, the oldest of five daughters and currently a junior biology major at the University of San Diego.
Meanwhile, Marissa’s health has improved — she graduated high school and will attend community college this fall — and Miranda’s scientific research has turned to another life-saving cause.
Stratton is doing a 10-week summer internship, again at TSRI, only this time she’s assisting a TSRI graduate student, Thomas Gaj, and a principal investigator, Carlos Barbas, to test for an HIV cure through gene therapy techniques.
“This research is pretty new and so is the enzyme we’re trying to use,” said Stratton, who will present her research on Aug. 12 at TSRI. “My part is just one minor step in it, but it’s exciting to think that my small contribution could help lead to something bigger for the greater good.”
Her outlook on summer research mirrors the first-generation commuter student’s approach to college life at USD. Stratton carries a 3.6 GPA, is a three-time member of the dean’s list and is passionately involved in campus activities to maximize her college experience.
“I feel it’s necessary to take advantage of all it has to offer me,” she said. “I not only want to excel academically, but also develop socially, within the USD community and beyond, and spiritually. I hope to attend the Search Retreat through University Ministry before my time at USD is finished. The university has given me so much, why not give back through my involvement in campus life?”
Stratton’s embrace of her college experience has come at a heavy cost. Paying for her college education has been a challenge, even with a USD grant each year, receiving the Sheehan Endowed Scholarship Trust freshman year, the Student Support Services’ IME-Becas Grant and the Ahmanson Foundation Scholarship last year, money through limited on-campus work hours and loans in her name.
“I don’t want to take out loans under my parents’ name because they still have four other daughters to consider,” she said. “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. It’s been a struggle every year and yes, it gets difficult at times, but I feel very grateful to be at a wonderful place like USD.”
She started strong her first semester, but reality set in prior to the spring semester.
“It wasn’t until second semester where I struggled with the academic adjustment that one encounters when going to college, applying for scholarships and renewing financial aid for the next year,” she recalled. “It was about that time that I learned about Student Support Services. Though I have the wonderful support of my family, I’m glad I can include SSS in my growing support system. Sara (Boquin), Rachel (Acosta) and all of the SSS staff have helped me with scheduling classes, mentoring and financial aid. I’m truly grateful for them. Without SSS, my USD experience would be completely different because it opened the door to other USD opportunities.”
One of those opportunities is Cool Club, a program run through Center for Awareness, Service and Action (CASA) where USD students engage with students who have intellectual disabilities in arts and crafts and sports activities. Stratton is a regular visitor to the Commuter Center in the Hahn University Center, and she’s developing important life skills through the Women’s Center Leadership Council. She’s also a member of the Torero Squad, a group of current students who assist incoming freshmen and transfer students during the annual Torero Days orientation program.
“I love to help new students and give them a great impression the first week they’re here,” she said. “I benefitted a lot from it and I made great friends and connections.”
She also plans to work with SSS’ Summer Bridge, a one-week introduction program prior to Torero Days for new USD students from low-income families as determined by federal income guidelines; first-generation college students; students with disabilities; or students who are from an underrepresented population as determined by USD.
Stratton’s own determination — to succeed in the classroom and campus life — is inspiring. She hopes others will follow her lead at USD, whether they live on campus or not.
“I want students to know they don’t have to live on campus to get involved,” she said. “There are so many ways to get involved. You just have to find a club, organization or program that makes you want to stay on campus and make USD your own. That’s what the Commuter Center has done for me, it’s what SSS has done for me and the Women’s Center is a big part of my USD life as well. People say you can’t do it all, but I’m doing it one step at a time.”
— Ryan T. Blystone