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When Brandi Santaniello was 13, her mom, a family practice doctor, asked her to help out with the business side of the office while the secretary was on vacation. Her mom noticed that the office ran more smoothly during those two weeks.
Through this exposure to the medical profession as well as its business portion, Santaniello became interested in doing this kind of work. Immaculata has provided the laboratory for her to experiment with both medicine and business, take some risks, and sharpen her creativity and organizational skills.
Santaniello, a chemistry major in the Class of 2014, recalls her older brother’s comment that she had “blossomed” after entering college. She gradually took on leadership positions in a variety of organizations, ranging from I2U Peer Educators, Enactus and the Business Club. Through these activities, she learned that she enjoys organizing projects, running meetings, and problem-solving.
“I’ve gone out of my comfort zone a lot, being here,” Santaniello reflected, remembering how she used to be more nervous about speaking in front of people. “Even if I have my face turn red, I can still accomplish what I need to.”
She has accomplished a lot so far, with activities as diverse as representing IU as Miss Immaculata 2011 as well as conducting chemical research. With funding from an IU mini-grant, Santaniello is working with James Murray Jr., Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, and biology major Kerry Smallacombe ’13 to research compounds that could function as new types of antioxidants. The most common use for antioxidants is to preserve freshness in packaged foods and cosmetics, but the compounds can also be used in anything from vinyl siding to medical implants to protect material from degradation caused by oxygen exposure.
“It’s nice to have another class of antioxidants in the pipeline,” said Murray. Sometimes current antioxidants stop working, or manufacturers need a class with different characteristics for use in a new product.
With research projects like this one, “there’s no textbook with the answers in the back,” Murray said. His students have to take the sum of all their learning so far, try out ideas, make mistakes, and try again. Sometimes the mistakes are more interesting than when things go exactly as expected. “You never know what it will lead to,” Murray said. “It’s like doing improv in music.”
Music is another of Santaniello’s interests, and she has studied piano with William Carr, DMA, IU Steinway Artist and professor of music.
“The creative process can be used in almost any discipline to either generate new ideas or solve problems,” Carr told Santaniello and the other students in his Honors Creative Problem- Solving class. Santaniello has a unique combination of creative and analytical skills, Carr said, which equip her well for the scientific research and organizational leadership she does. She knows how to look at situations from multiple viewpoints, resisting the temptation to seize upon one problem-solving approach too quickly, and instead seeking to understand the ramifications of different options.
“People reach solutions way too soon,” Carr remarked. “Einstein said that the most difficult part of any problem is not solving it. It’s setting it up. And that’s true of anything—it’s true of piano-playing, it’s true of chemistry.”
Santaniello wrote her final paper for the class about the extensive trial and error involved in pharmaceutical research. Out of approximately 10,000 compounds synthesized by different techniques, only one is suitable for medical use, Santaniello found. Because of the lengthy process necessary to develop new drugs, the pharmaceutical industry requires imaginative exploration and experimentation with numerous possibilities.
Santaniello has done some exploration of her own as she has planned out a career path. Her ultimate goal is to get a joint M.D./M.B.A. degree, working as a doctor for a few years and then progressing to a leadership position in hospital administration.
In addition to the support and training she has received at Immaculata to pursue these goals, Santaniello has plenty of role models and affirmation from her family. Not only is her mother a doctor, but her aunt and uncle are surgeons, and her brother is currently studying medicine. Santaniello had doubts last fall about whether she wanted to go to medical school, wondering if instead she should get just a business degree and work toward becoming a hospital executive from there.
But Santaniello’s grandfather had read Immaculata’s Profiles magazine and learned about women who went to both medical school and business school to prepare for hospital leadership positions. “I think, if you want to do that, that’s the way you have to go,” he told her. Both of her grandparents expressed their confidence in her. “We believe you can do it, if you want to do it,” they told her. Santaniello’s brother agreed. “I can see you being a doctor,” he said. “That’s the kind of person you are— always helping others, making the decisions, and being in charge.”
So Santaniello resolved to go for her M.D. Murray helped her get special permission to add biology classes to her already-full schedule in order to take the MCAT and get into medical school.
Based on her aunt’s experience studying medicine and serving as a breast cancer surgeon, Santaniello is looking forward to it. “I look up to my aunt a lot,” she said. “I see how much she loves her job … She loves being able to save people’s lives.” To be in med school, Santaniello’s aunt says, “You have to love what you’re doing, because it’s a long haul … So enjoy yourself, but also work hard.”
“I am excited, and a little nervous, to see what both the medical and business fields have in store for me,” said Santaniello. “I know I am going to face obstacles along the way, but Immaculata University has taught me to persevere through the challenges because the end goal will be that much more rewarding.”