Using critical thinking skills, Pankratz applies classroom skills to summer research project

While interning in an all-female lab the last two summers, Hastings College senior Sophia Pankratz learned to appreciate the research side of healthcare.

The biology major interned at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha and helped researchers finish a six-year National Institute of Health grant (NIH) on women who are within the first five years post-menopause and diagnosed with osteopenia. Those with osteopenia suffer from low bone density, which is typically the step before being diagnosed with osteoporosis. Researchers are trying to prevent bones from deteriorating further.

Photo of Sophia Pankratz
Sophia Pankratz during her summer internship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The Hastings, Nebraska, native was tasked with helping researchers in a multitude of ways. She distributed materials to participants, went through the consent forms with them, talked with them on their visits and helped patients get set up with their devices. She also tracked data, checked the validity of the data and ran statistical analysis on the data before getting research papers and posters out about what the study finds.

As Pankratz applies to dental school, she said she wants to keep in mind the research side of dentistry. She said her internship helped her learn how to apply academic journals to her work, and that if she goes into the clinic world of dentistry, she’ll appreciate her understanding of why procedures get implemented into practice.

“Being outside the classroom has helped me learn to think outside the box and apply what I’ve learned into the real world,” she said.

Pankratz was connected with the opportunity at UNMC her sophomore year when individuals from UNMC came to Hastings College to talk with pre-health majors. She had the chance to meet with the dean of UNMC’s College of Allied Health Professions, and they made a connection through a common theme: basketball.

Pankratz is on the Hastings College basketball team and the dean’s son played for Doane University, another school in the GPAC conference. He connected Pankratz with one of his colleagues at the medical center after she mentioned she wanted to do summer research.

While Pankratz was exploring career options her first two years on campus, during her sophomore year a religion professor encouraged her to find a career that aligns with who she wants to be. Anyone can go out and find a job, but finding a profession is discovering who you want to be and who you are.

Pankratz said she believes that through her dentist shadowing experiences, she found dentistry to be her place.

“The beauty of the Hastings College education is taking classes in different fields because they taught me to think critically in everything I do,” she said.

By Courtney Hanson, a junior from Brookings, South Dakota, majoring in communication studies and philosophy and religion.

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