Spring 2024 Issue:

Student Spotlight

A Curious

Though set on her pre-med track, Ayleen Mexquititla ’25 explores every opportunity available to her.

By Meghan Decker Szvetecz ’08, Spring 2024

Ayleen Mexquititla ’25, a biology major on the pre-med track, hasn’t ever considered any career path other than becoming a doctor. But that didn’t stop her from seizing every opportunity at Moravian—one internship, research project, and presentation at a time.

“I’ve always thought, ‘I want to be pre-med, but I’m not going to say no to any opportunity that falls into my lap,’” she says. “I never wanted to close any doors that I wasn’t sure of.”

While Mexquititla can’t pinpoint an exact moment when she knew that she wanted to pursue medicine, she remembers being a curious child, especially when it came to accompanying her grandparents and other family members to their doctors’ appointments. “I always wanted to hear what the doctors were saying; even if it didn’t make sense, I always wanted to know,” she says.

As a first-generation college student, Mexquititla doesn’t come from a family of healthcare professionals, and the charter school she attended in Allentown, Pennsylvania, lacked honors and advanced placement–level science courses. There was a steep learning curve her freshman year at Moravian, she admits. “When I first got into class, everything was basically new information for me.”

Not that it was obvious to Mexquititla’s professors. To biology professors Natasha Woods and Joshua Lord, Mexquititla stood out as an eager and engaged student who asked insightful questions and learned concepts quickly. “I can honestly say she is one of the most promising undergraduate students that I have encountered in my career,” says Lord.

The summer after Mexquititla’s freshman year, Woods chose her to join her annual research trip to the University of Virginia’s Coastal Research Center. For 10 weeks, Mexquititla conducted research on the plants of Hog Island alongside undergraduate students from nearby universities. Buggy, hot, and humid, the conditions are challenging, Woods admits, but Mexquititla was not afraid to get her hands dirty. “I am always impressed by Ayleen’s willingness to try new things.” Subsequently, Mexquititla was awarded funding from Moravian’s Student Opportunities for Academic Research (SOAR) program to present this research at the National Council for Undergraduate Research conferences in Wisconsin and California.

I’ve always thought, ‘I want to be pre-med, but I’m not going to say no to any opportunity that falls into my lap.’ I never wanted to close any doors that I wasn’t sure of.”

—Ayleen Mexquititla ’25

Back home, Mexquititla joined Lord in his lab to conduct research on shrimp. In just a few weeks, he says, Mexquititla familiarized herself with a new animal, research field, and software program before largely working on her own. “It wouldn’t surprise me if she graduates as one of the most accomplished undergraduate researchers in the history of our program,” he says.

Lord notes that Mexquititla went on to present at the Benthic Ecology Meeting, an international marine biology conference, in Miami, and even though she has excelled in upper-level ecology classes, he recognizes Mexquititla’s plan is to pursue medicine. Still, he says, “she would make an exceptional marine biologist!”

Mexquititla prioritizes opportunities to research and present away from home. As a commuter, this gives her a chance to explore places where she could land post-Moravian, she says. With that in mind, Mexquititla turned to the National Science Foundation’s list of Research Experiences for Undergraduates to find her internship with the Simons Foundation at New York University Biology Summer Undergraduate Research program last year.

“All of these opportunities that Mexquititla has taken advantage of add to the person that she is,” says Woods.

Last fall, completing the St. Luke’s Premed Observer Program—where she spent 100 hours following residents on their rotations—served as a reminder to Mexquititla of her motivation to become a doctor. As an observer, there wasn’t much she could do, but one small way she could lend a hand was to do her best to serve as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients while they waited for a translator to arrive, she explains.

“There are so many people in this country for whom Spanish is their only language. They aren’t able to get the proper support, or they’re ashamed or scared to go to the hospital. Part of my driving force to become a doctor is because I want to be able to bridge that gap.”

A Curious Mind

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