Meet the Majors

Brenda Leyva Garcia ’22

Neuroscience

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About Brenda

Class of 2022

Hometown: La Paz, Bolivia

Neuroscience

Minor: Chemistry

House: Duckett

Other clubs, sports, activities:
Latin American Student Organization (LASO) Social Chair, Neuroscience Liaison, Barresi Lab member

What would you do with your major if you knew you could not fail?
I would develop a trial to study targeted drug delivery to the optic nerve. Many neurodegenerative diseases that compromise sight are hard to treat precisely because the optic nerve is one of the hardest places to reach in the human body. We can barely deliver therapies to the retina through eye drops, imagine what would happen if we successfully delivered drugs or stem cells to the eye. We could treat diseases like glaucoma, neuromyelitis optica, and optic neuritis, and improve the quality of life of thousands of people.

How has your minor intersected with your major or provided a completely different perspective?
I believe that chemistry is the basis of any natural science. I see chemistry applied everywhere in my major, and I think it was particularly important for me to understand what chemical reactions need to take place in the brain and the central nervous system overall, be it during synapse, or even during neural development. Even in procedures in the laboratory, and applications in translational neuroscience such as drug therapy development, chemistry is absolutely necessary.

Smith will challenge you and push you to strive to be the best you can be. Learning entails failing, it entails falling down and getting back up.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share about your time at Smith?
Smith will challenge you and push you to strive to be the best you can be. It is a great institution, but sometimes we students forget the bigger picture and focus on academics and getting a perfect grade. Learning entails failing, it entails falling down and getting back up. People at Smith will be there to support you, and there will be time for you to get back up. Enjoy the ride, the failures, and the successes. Smith is there to teach you, but it is also there for you to meet new people, experience new things, and explore who you are.

What has been your favorite spot on campus to brainstorm great ideas? What spot will you miss the most?
A hidden spot above the Learning Commons at the Neilson Library. It is the perfect combination of calm but not dead silent.

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What’s your all-time favorite Smith memory?
My last Mountain Day. I was coming back from taking a class at UMass Amherst, very upset that I may not be able to enjoy the donuts, the apple cider, and my free T-shirt because of my class. I felt like I was robbed from my class-free Mountain Day, and I was frantically texting my friends who were on campus to grab me anything they could before it ran out. I remember getting out of the bus from UMass and running across campus, straight towards President McCartney’s house. I luckily did get everything, and what is funny is that the day soon turned into one of the most magical days of my time at Smith. My friends and I took pictures, went to the garden behind Capen, had brunch downtown, and we enjoyed the free time that we had together with our food while it was raining outside.

What was the most challenging moment in your time at Smith?
The transition as a transfer and international student. I was very intimidated by Smith’s caliber of education when I became a Smithie during the pandemic. I am from a low-income family in Bolivia, and I went to community college in Maryland before coming to Smith, so when in-person classes started I felt out of place. I had never before experienced such a challenging academic environment, nor had I ever been surrounded by people who came from backgrounds that differed greatly from my own. I also deeply missed my family and my culture, since I was raised by my father and my grandmother from a very young age, and grew up in an environment where Bolivian traditions and values were always present. Luckily, I found people to connect with during my time at Smith, people who understood who I am and what I value. After a while I realized that Smith allowed me to find my spark, it helped me become a woman that speaks up for herself, who takes the leap to pursue her dreams, and who is proud to be a Latina in STEM.

Smith allowed me to find my spark, it helped me become a woman that speaks up for herself, who takes the leap to pursue her dreams, and who is proud to be a Latina in STEM.

If you could tell an alum something about your own personal experience at Smith, what would it be?
Alums should have the recipe for cannolis. The cannolis that are served at Tyler every other full moon are amazing, and they will never be forgotten, even after I graduate.

Who was your favorite professor and what did you most like about their style of teaching?
My favorite professor was Dr. Alexis Ziemba, a post-doc in the Neuroscience Department. She was a caring professor throughout all my time at Smith, taking the time to mentor me, encouraging my passions in the field and always believing in me. She also personally took the time to meet with students, pushing us to dive deeper into what we learned in class and creating a class environment where everyone felt comfortable to make mistakes and to learn from them in the process.

What was the best advice about your major that you were ever given?
I think the neuroscience department did a great job at telling us one thing: you can make neuroscience whatever you want it to be. Every professor I’ve met has told me stories about the different career paths you can take when you major in neuroscience, be it medicine, research, education or even science illustration. We learn from many disciplines that give us tools that can be applied anywhere.

What do you want other Smithies to know about the class of 2022?
We are determined. We are in our last year after being away from campus, feeling like sophomores but being seniors. We are determined for this year to make it count. We have learned to adapt throughout the pandemic, to face challenges straight on. We pushed through despite being remotely for two years, pushed through with all the restrictions, all the lost experiences, and all the lost internships from the pandemic. We are here to keep going, and to make it big after we leave!

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