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Preparing Future Lab Scientists

July 12th, 2017

For two recent NIU graduates, discovering medical laboratory sciences (MLS) as the right degree path for them was like conducting lab research.

“I was doing research and stumbled across the MLS program by accident, and I’ve been on that track ever since,” said Nicole Dispensa, a resident of Stillman Valley, Illinois.

For another recent graduate, Reilly Steidle of Naperville, Illinois, the path to MLS began after trying to discover the cause of her own illness. Weakened by a mysterious illness, Steidle considered leaving NIU. Then she got word that Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, would take her case. After many weeks of testing, she learned her diagnosis: Lyme disease. The care she received turned her thoughts to a science career.

“My academic adviser told me about MLS and said ‘if you are thinking about a science, this has a lot of utility,’” Steidle said. “I wanted to improve the process of getting a diagnosis. Because Mayo had done that for me, it was my dream to work at an institution like that.”

“I knew the lab would be the best fit for me because I could still make an impact on patients’ lives, but I could do it behind the scenes,” Dispensa said.

Dispensa and Steidle happened to be in the right place to make their career dreams reality: NIU.

Preparing a future generation of laboratory scientists with the knowledge, skills and professional attitude necessary to be a leader in the field is the college’s priority, said Masih Shokrani, associate professor of NIU’s medical laboratory sciences program. Along with providing research opportunities, NIU prepares students for internships in other labs and advocates for their placement.

Dispensa and Steidle learned that firsthand. They, along with three other classmates, landed prestigious internships at Mayo Clinic.

Stiedle’s internship included creating blood products for patients at the clinic.

“I thought it was cool to get that assignment. I did something I never would have done at a hospital,” she said.

Shokrani said the fact that NIU students have earned internships at Mayo Clinic and other lab sites is a testament to the Huskie program.

“This shows the medical laboratory sciences program prepares students to work at a very high level, the way Mayo Clinic expects,” Shokrani said. “This also shows that the program is well-received by other institutions.”

Steidle aspires to return to Mayo Clinic and to one day conduct Lyme disease research.

“I want to put my name on a product that’s more than 50 percent effective in treating Lyme disease,” Steidle said.

Dispensa plans to begin a master’s degree program to become a pathologists’ assistant.

“I have certainly grown as a person and as a leader while attending NIU,” Dispensa said. “I feel like this was where I was meant to go and I don’t think I would have been as successful had I attended another school.