- by Mount Saint Mary College
Jayda Cavanaugh of Wolcott, Conn., a first-generation college student, will graduate from the Mount on Saturday, May 21.

Just days before Commencement, Biology major and Chemistry minor Jayda Cavanaugh of Wolcott, Conn. received a Student Research Scholarship Award from Mount Saint Mary College. 

For anyone who knows her, it’s no surprise that Cavanaugh was honored for her academic skill and dedication. She’s a highly motivated student who radiates confidence, and she’s the first person in her family to earn a college degree.

“This school provided all the resources I needed to be a successful first-generation college student,” she explained. “I relied heavily on the close-knit community at the Mount.”

Cavanaugh’s list of accolades is impressive. She was president of the Mount’s chapter of Beta Beta Beta, the national honor society for Biology; secretary of the college’s chapter of Gamma Sigma Epsilon, the national honor society for Chemistry; both a Ralph and Aquinas Scholar, recognitions given to the college’s best and brightest students; and a regular on the Mount’s Dean’s list.

One of her latest accomplishments might just be her greatest. Recently, Cavanaugh earned a job as a research technician at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Center for Cancer Genomics in Boston, Mass. Her start date is August 1, but she’s already secured an apartment near her workplace, just a few minutes from Fenway Park.

“I’m so happy that I landed this job,” she said. “I really love what Dana-Farber stands for and I love the location. They’re doing cutting edge research. It’s going to be amazing.”  

Aside from her interest in scientific research, Cavanaugh has another, more personal reason for wanting to work at the institute: “Cancer hits very close to home. My mom has breast cancer currently [and] I’ve known so many people who have suffered from cancer.”

Four years ago, however, Cavanaugh had no idea she’d be entering a career in research. Originally, she was planning to become a dentist. It was through the Mount’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE), where students work closely with professors on applied research, that Cavanaugh discovered her true calling. 

“The opportunities I had through SURE, through independent study, and through the insight of my professors allowed me to get a lot of research experience, to really understand that this was the field I wanted to go into now and for the rest of my life,” Cavanaugh said. “My heart is really in research.” 

The Mount’s rigorous Natural Sciences program helped her to prepare for her upcoming career with Dana-Farber, Cavanaugh said.

“You go to the Mount and you leave a scientist,” she explained. “I’ve grown so much as a person, as a scientist. Now I’m always asking questions.”

She thanked Evan Merkhofer, associate professor of Biology and chair of the Mount’s Division of Natural Sciences, for “believing in me since day one, guiding me through the career change process, and setting me up for success,” including bringing the job opening at the Dana-Farber Center Institute to her attention. 

Cavanaugh added that Suparna Bhalla, associate professor of Biology, “has been a fantastic role model and a fantastic support system for me.”

For anyone considering a major in Natural Sciences at the Mount, Cavanaugh has some advice: “Be patient with yourself,” she said. “Know that you’re going to fail, you’re going to make mistakes, and not everything will go your way. But it’s what you learn and what you take away from those experiences that will make you a success.” 


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