Carnegie Mellon University

Ashley Reeder

Ashley Reeder (S 2014)

Chemistry major, cancer researcher, future physician


Research Driven: Hands-on science sparks Ashley Reeder's passion

On a warm spring day in Pittsburgh, Ashley Reeder (S’14) made her way out of class a little more swiftly than her classmates. She knew the 61C bus was coming and couldn’t afford to miss it. Not because she was done for the day, or was meeting friends for lunch, but because the 61C took her to the Magee-Women’s Research Institute where, if timed right, she could fit in a few hours of research before heading back to class.

Beginning the summer after her sophomore year, Reeder worked on a research project with Dr. Melanie Flint, formerly of Magee-Women’s Research Institute and the Women’s Cancer Research Center, that examined the biological mechanisms underlying how stress hormones affect the efficacy of a common chemotherapy drug, paclitaxel.

“I was really passionate about this research because it reminds you that doctors can’t just treat the cancer but must treat the person,” said Reeder, a recent Chemistry graduate. “Stress almost inevitably burdens patients who are diagnosed with cancer, and this research exhibits how such stress can have a very quantifiable impact on treatment.”

When Reeder came to Carnegie Mellon, she knew that she wanted to be a doctor. And she chose Carnegie Mellon for exactly that reason.

“I wanted to attend a strong research university, to be surrounded by other talented students, and to be located in a city with a strong medical system in place: CMU could offer me all of that.”

It also offered her the chance to think about current medical efforts on a more global scale. Reeder joined the CMU chapter of Global Medical Brigades, a student-led organization that conducts mobile medical clinics in under-resourced communities. Reeder spent two spring breaks, one in Honduras and another in Nicaragua, with the group.

“I loved sitting outside the medical clinics we set up—usually in a small school or church—sharing wood-cooked beans with people from the community,” said Reeder, who also pursued a Hispanic studies minor in addition to her chemistry major. “I would just talk with them about their life experiences and families in between shifts of patient intake and consultation.”

These out-of-class experiences solidified Reeder’s desire to become a doctor.

“To experience the appreciation that men and women felt in being given this access to physicians and medicine was so rewarding,” Reeder explained.

Currently, Reeder is busy applying to medical schools and working toward her master’s degree in biomedical engineering (BME) at CMU. She chose the BME program to become more familiar with developing therapies and technologies so that she may better utilize and integrate them as a physician.

“I think that CMU prepared me for medical school and so much more,” Reeder said. “I have such a strong foundation in chemistry and biology, and I feel that will undoubtedly continue to serve me well in medical school and beyond.”

By: Adam Harring, Science Connection, Dec. 2014