Kate Partynski’s career aspirations are in genetic counseling, specifically pre-natal counseling. One discussion she’s sure to have with prospective parents is explaining scientific concepts and the potential risk for child health disorders.
“That’s a very emotional conversation to have,” said the University of San Diego junior biology major.
So, when Partynski heard about Rebecca Skloot’s powerful 2010 book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last summer, it piqued her interest.
She wanted to learn more about Lacks, who died of cancer in 1951, but whose human cell line, “HeLa cells,” was used for advances in scientific medical research. Partynski was moved, too, by Skloot’s diligent work to explain Lacks’ family’s struggle to come to grips with their mother’s legacy since Lacks’ cells were used for research purposes without her or her family’s consent.
“I really liked (Skloot’s) voice throughout the book,” Partynski said. “The topic really interested me. The research is important, but there’s also a human side and how it relates to the impact on lives every day.”
Partynski was happy to find that USD Biology Professor Laura Rivard’s Fall 2011 Genetics class included the New York Times Best Seller as required reading. It was also selected by La Jolla’s Center for Ethic in Science and Technology as a local literacy and education project, called Just Read, at colleges and universities. Partynski liked that the spotlight on the book would raise more awareness among people about science and ethical issues involving human scientific research.
Partynski read the book and she attended USD Just Read events, including Skloot’s in-person visit to campus to discuss the book and answer audience questions. To complement book discussions and presentations by faculty and students, Just Read also hosted a student essay contest.
Partynski won the top prize of $300 for her essay, titled, “Tissue Ownership in the Modern Age: What Henrietta’s Story Can Teach Us.” Fellow USD students, Danielle Chung and Mina Nguyen, were also recognized and earned a cash prize.
Partynski’s winning essay was forwarded to a regional competition where she finished third against winning entries from UC San Diego, San Diego State University, Cal State University San Marcos, Point Loma Nazarene and Grossmont College students. She and the other essay winners will be honored and recognized April 4 at an Exploring Ethics event hosted by the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.
“I really liked writing and talking about it,” she said. “I’m honored to win and to represent USD.”
— Ryan T. Blystone