Science and skateboarding come naturally to this Spider

July 29, 2022

STUDENT EXPERIENCE

Students face many choices. Study or sleep? Internship or grad school? Skateboarding or neurosurgery?

The last one may be specific to senior Sadie Wenger, who can often be spotted skateboarding around Gottwald Center for the Sciences as she navigates pre-med courses and participates in various undergraduate research projects.

Wenger picked up her semi-pro skateboard skills on the streets of New York City where she grew up. “In high school I was competing a little bit in the city, sponsored by a shop in Queens,” Wenger said. “I did what we call street skating — not half pipes and bowls, but more stairs and rails and that kind of stuff.”

Wenger came to the University of Richmond after a successful campus visit, eventually majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and minoring in Latin American, Latino and Iberian studies. The opportunity to do undergraduate research played a big part in her decision to attend UR.

“Right now, I’m in the biochemistry lab doing this awesome project on thermophilic proteins — that’s a protein that does well in high temperatures,” Wenger said. The research could have future practical applicability as a biosensor, such as tracking insulin in people with diabetes.

Wenger has participated in different undergraduate research projects since freshman year. In the lab of Kelly Lambert, professor of behavioral neuroscience, she studied anxiety symptoms in rats, research that was used in a published paper. Last summer, she completed field work studying macaque monkeys at a Miami wildlife park.

“Being from New York City, that was a huge change of pace for me,” Wenger said. “We would plan out experiments and observe the social hierarchy and the gender roles.”

Her undergraduate explorations have stretched out into other areas — other languages, too.

“The research we can do here isn’t limited to the sciences,” said Wenger, who also speaks enough Tagalog and Spanish for translation work. “I did research with the Spanish department on domestic violence in the Latinx community during COVID. We wrote a paper in Spanish and then, kind of on a whim, translated and published in English — with the Spanish translation still offered.”

Wenger hopes to be a surgeon, and recognizes she’ll have to give up on skateboarding. “I had both my wrists in splints at the same time, once,” she said. Wenger isn’t sure what kind of surgery, quite yet, but her pre-med studies have given her plenty to think about.

“I currently shadow a urogynecologist,” Wenger said. “She's amazing. She's a beast in the OR, but she's also a great mom. I’m not sure that I want to go into gynecology specifically, but it’s really special to have a mentor whose work aligns so closely with my own goals.

Wenger said she’s particularly appreciative of the wide variety opportunities provided by UR’s instructors and researchers.  

“I tell my professors how grateful I am, and I really mean it,” she said. “We are so lucky to learn from them.”