Meet our scholarship recipients: Melissa Lorenzo

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Melissa Lorenzo is a 2020 recipient of the Keck School of Medicine scholarship for incoming master’s students. She is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Biostatistics degree at USC.

What has been your journey so far?

Melissa Lorenzo (Image courtesy Melissa Lorenzo)

Born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, I call the Los Angeles area home. Growing up, desiring higher education was regarded as dreaming of a treasured prize — hardly out of reach, yet virtually unattainable. My family, as incredibly supportive as they are, did not grow up with advantages at their disposal that could easily bring me to pursue university and a better life. Yet, I managed to work against the odds: I am the first person in my family to obtain a bachelor’s degree and the first to pursue graduate education.

From a young age, I was captivated by both mathematics and the medical field. When I volunteered at the local hospital during my adolescent years, I was already in awe of the environment I was working in, envisioning my career in this field. At the same time, I noticed that my interest in mathematics rose to a high peak when I had the opportunity to take an advanced placement statistics course. As soon as I was introduced to basic applications and theory of fundamental statistics, I was captivated — I immediately knew what I wanted to major in when the time came to apply to universities. But I still firmly held my interest in medicine, as my days spent volunteering constantly reminded me. I eventually found a career path that perfectly combines my two passions: biostatistics.

I acquired my undergraduate degree in mathematics under the statistics option from California State University, Northridge (CSUN), where I conducted a research project studying medical applications and theory of categorical data analysis. Now, I am extremely grateful to be presented with the opportunity of studying the specific field of biostatistics at USC.

How do you hope to make a difference in population and public health?

As mentioned earlier, my passion for health and medicine began with volunteering at a hospital during my high school years. The experience of volunteering during my younger years gave me the gratifying opportunity to help nearly everyone, from patients to doctors, to visitors. I relished every moment of providing assistance of any form, no matter how simple or small the job may be. The volunteering experience instilled in me a drive to contribute to the improvement of public health and medicine by the use of statistics and mathematics.

Due to the pandemic, I am pursuing education in public health and population sciences with a fiercely determined spirit now more than ever. I’m inspired by and in absolute awe of public health professionals and practitioners: they are making more than every effort promoting and fortifying public health and medicine, and it is my sole desire to assist them.

The core of my interest in public health is a simple yet strong desire to help people. If I can manage to be of assistance along the way of my never-ending pursuit of education, that would be all the better.

What led you to pursue your MS in Biostatistics at USC?

Since I have always been fascinated by medicine while being engrossed in mathematical statistics, I chose the program of biostatistics since it artfully combines my passions. When I completed my bachelor’s degree, I still yearned for the knowledge that could be found beyond the undergraduate level. The time to choose a graduate school eventually came, and I knew even then that USC holds great renown and prestige, especially for its specialty in medicine and public health. The Keck Hospital of USC stands among the most highly valued hospitals in the country, and the Keck School of Medicine drew me in when I learned of its plethora of remarkable research towards the betterment of public health and medicine. After taking these facts into consideration, USC became the optimal choice for me.

What does this scholarship mean to you?

From my standpoint, this scholarship offers a vast number of opportunities. Being the recipient of this scholarship provides not only advantageous financial assistance but also gratifying recognition. The name of this scholarship is accompanied by a sense of distinction, which is quite meaningful for me: a person who grew up with a quiet and simple lifestyle without any expectation of pursuing higher education. On top of that, receiving this scholarship means that someone out there genuinely supports students like me, and truly desires to be of assistance in their academic journey. Being aware of the fact that there is a generous person out there who has students of need on their mind is remarkably heartwarming.

What has been your experience at USC so far?

One of my favorite classes thus far is PM 512: Principles of Epidemiology. In spite of the unusual circumstances we are all facing, I still find myself enjoying the class and internalizing considerable amounts of information. Suddenly switching gears from four years’ worth of mathematics to graduate-level public health and epidemiology was certainly an enjoyable and engaging experience. Learning about some elements of the pandemic — such as outbreak investigation and measures of disease occurrence — was almost surrealistic, as I concurrently observed these elements unfolding in the real world, in real-time.

On top of that, receiving news of being the recipient of this scholarship, as well as having the opportunity to feature my story on the department website, has undoubtedly been a notable highlight of my first semester of being a graduate student in my dream program.

How do you see your degree helping to drive your future?

My ultimate goal is to apply statistical applications towards medicine and public health while studying and researching mathematical and statistical theory, and to simultaneously teach the topics I’ve learned and researched. I understand that this goal would require years of academic training; therefore, in order to reach that destination, I found that it would be ideal to acquire a master’s degree in biostatistics as preparation for a PhD in the same subject. By obtaining a master’s degree first, I would be able to strike a balance between statistical applications and theoretical statistics relating to medicine and public health.

To fulfill my desire of endless learning, I plan to continue studying biostatistics through both research and practical applications, while ideally serving as a professor. “The more you know, the more you owe” dwelled in my mind as a prominent proverb for a considerable amount of time, and I aspire to apply this mentality by sharing any knowledge I acquire with my peers — and, eventually, to future generations of students.

What message would you like to share with your scholarship donor?

Please accept my utmost and genuine, heartfelt thanks for your charitable acts and contributions. Without a doubt, the future will bring other students like myself — and with the help you had kindheartedly given to me, it would be my honor to represent those future students, relate to them, and assist them to reach their goals, just how I had been assisted. I dearly hope you know how much your contribution means to me.