Senior year in high school is always a balancing act: managing priorities, assessing long-term goals and finding time to have fun here and there.
For Joy Young, however, that act is more like an extreme sport.
Young, a senior at Camas High School, recently presented research findings at the 2022 Biomedical Engineering Society Conference in San Antonio, Texas. The presentation was among multiple works Young’s done in her two years as an intern at the University of California San Diego’s Institute of Engineering in Medicine.
To be clear — that’s all being done alongside her life as a teenage student who, of course, is still managing to take five different Advanced Placement courses this year.
“I feel like I’ve really learned how to not procrastinate,” Young said. “In between things I just try to get something done, even if that’s just sending an email or reading something when I wake up in the morning.”
Her presentation in San Antonio, titled “The damage mechanism of axonopathy in CMT2B and HD using laser ablation as a tool for damage,” which she finished with the help of mentors and eight other co-authors, assessed how cells with two incurable neurodegenerative diseases — Huntington’s disease and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease type 2B — responded to a collection of stimulants and stressors.
For example, researchers like Young use lasers to induce cellular injury to see how they may fight back or die off in different ways, which varies when those cells are diseased. With diseases that have no known cure, examining these kinds of responses can help medical researchers better identify treatment methods.
A dedication to being dedicated
Young’s internship in a majority-virtual program at UCSD began in the summer of 2021. Every few weeks she’d go down to San Diego and work hands-on, but for the most part she was on her own behind a computer screen in Vancouver. It was a challenge, and looking back, Young said there’s a few things she’d have done differently despite recent success in presenting her work.
“In the beginning, I felt like I struggled a little bit with doing things virtually. I didn’t ask enough questions,” Young said. “Sometimes my mentor is super busy, so she refers me to articles to read. I feel like I should have pushed her a little bit harder to understand the content.”
The passion for science and math began at a young age, when Young felt she wanted more from her math education in elementary school, particularly in a way that could help her and other students engage with each other and participate in local academic competitions.
Soon enough, with the help of her father, Roger Young, the Camas School District implemented the “Math is Cool” program, which serves as an extracurricular program to students starting in third grade.
“She’s always leading the effort,” Roger Young said. “From the beginning, she’s really empowered to drive the math club and that type of stuff.”
In the years since the math club’s inception, Young said her attraction to biomedical engineering is rooted in a place of personal reflection.
“When I was pretty young, my grandma passed away of stage 4 pancreatic cancer,” Young said. “I didn’t know what that meant, but I did research and realized her death was apparently ‘unavoidable,’ so I got interested in researching about diseases like that.”
Her work with UCSD is right up that alley: examining new approaches to answering the questions behind why seemingly incurable neurological diseases prove to be so resistant to treatment options.
Leveling the playing field
In his decades of experience working as an engineer, Roger Young said he’s been particularly proud to see his daughter’s passion for STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — as it’s historically a field that’s male dominated.
As of 2019, women accounted for just 34 percent of roles in STEM occupations in the United States, per a study from the National Science Foundation. That number is even smaller among women of color, who account for just 11.6 percent of that industry’s workforce.
“Even in my workplace, in my 30 years as an engineer, I see 90 percent men,” Roger Young said. “But I feel like it doesn’t have to be like that. I have two daughters that are into science, and I want to promote that they should be encouraged to pursue anything they like.”
Now that she’s got a short break in her research schedule following the presentation, Joy Young is now in the process of applying for colleges, with top liberal arts colleges in her sights. Wherever she goes next, she encourages her peers to do whatever it takes to make goals become reality.
“I feel like we’re making an improvement in society,” Young said. “I don’t see a lot of (experience in STEM fields) from the women in my family and I want to change that. Because we can excel just the same if we have the same opportunities and if everyone looked at us the same.
“My advice is to just try to do whatever you want.”