Senior Daniela Rodriguez-Firmani is Gulliver Prep’s Silver Knight nominee in the Science category.
Rodriguez-Firmani devoted all of her time last summer to working in an intern program at the Jackson Memorial Hospital Miller School of Medicine in the Diabetes Institute. The program was funded through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. For seven weeks, she studied and worked on the idea that the encapsulation of pancreatic beta cells may be a way to reverse Type I diabetes.
“First we had to create the gel,” she says. “We did this with lab work, mixing different substances. We had three groups, Alginate hydro gels and two other gels modified in slightly different ways.”
Theoretically, the gel would help the cells to become immune from attack, but still be able to exchange glucose and other minerals essential for the cell survival. In testing the gels, they found the most effective one was an alginate hydrogel that coated with polyethylene glycol maleimide.
“It would show the greatest cell viability,” she says.
At the end of the program, Rodriguez- Firmani wrote a research paper and made a presentation to the UM faculty.
Rodriguez-Firmani ‘s interest in science and medicine led her to volunteer for six months at Miami Children’s Hospital in the gastroenterology unit.
“That gave me a chance to explore how it is to be in a hospital setting,” she says. “I volunteered because I knew I loved science. I would work with kids who were going through surgical procedures. It was a very rewarding experience.”
After interning at the Diabetes Institute, Rodriguez-Firmani is considering a career in medical research.
“I’m really interested in research, especially during my college years, and I wanted to get a feel for what it would be like,” she says. “I especially want to work in biology, so I thought it would be the perfect program.”
Rodriguez-Firmani has applied for admission to colleges that not only have top biology programs, but also have good music schools, too. She began using her vocal talent at a young age, starting to sing publicly when she was in the fifth grade. She has been president of the Gulliver choir since she was in the 10th grade, and she is president of the music club as well.
Her list of preferred universities includes Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern and Emory.
“We have a winter concert and a spring concert,” she says. “The winter concert is all holiday songs and the spring is classical and spiritual music,” she says. “And we have a solo and ensemble concert every March that kids sign up to perform in. That’s a really cool event.”
Music club members earn community service hours by performing at different places such as retirement homes.
Outside of high school, Rodriguez- Firmani is a member of the Miami Lyric Opera, a company that perform at the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.
“It’s like community opera,” she says.
The opera company has five performances a year and the singers come from all walks of life.
“There is a guy that is a lawyer and a guy who is a doctor and we just come together every Thursday; it’s really cool,” she says. “Everyone is a lot older than me and I’m not one of the main roles, I’m in the background. But one day!”
Rodriguez-Firmani says she would like to do some research on how music affects the brain.
“The relationship that music rhythm has on motor activities in patients with Parkinson’s or strokes,” she says. “I just think it’s the perfect fusion of what I love to do. I know in the future it will be hard to do opera and music. I have a dream of fusing the two fields together into one solid dream.”
— By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld