After a Hamburg High School career that led Elisabeth “Libby” Bassini to enough activities, internships and accomplishments to fill a five-page résumé, it was a story on the radio that helped her figure out what to do with it all.
She was working as a lab intern at Roswell Park Cancer Institute last summer when she heard about an experimental vaccine against the Ebola virus.
It was her seminal moment. She realized she wanted to help save lives around the world. She had often ruminated about her future. Would she be a researcher in a pharmaceutical lab? An environmental scientist? A doctor?
Now she wants to “work with a global biotechnology company to make a difference in the world.”
This would mix her two loves: science and international affairs.
Her eclectic high school experiences helped her get this far. She joined her school’s global leadership studies program in English, history and international affairs. She devoted summers to teaching sailing with the Seven Seas school and to science.
She interned at Hauptmann Woodward Medical Research Institute after freshman and sophomore year. There she analyzed data to trace the evolution of the genetic code.
Last summer, she worked in a Roswell lab doing breast cancer research with a mentor scientist looking at cancer stem cells and drugs to inhibit the disease.
“I learned so much,” she said.
This spring she won a place at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, where she will major in science and international affairs in the fall.
Libby sounds like a young woman older than her 17 years when she talks about her evolving vision for the future. She credits her family for inspiring her to pursue her interests with passion.
Her grandfather, Gerald Mosher, was an inventor who worked for the dairy industry. “He patented a testing instrument,” she said. “He emphasized working hard for what you want to do.”
Her mother Judith, who started a recycling club when she was in high school, had a similar message.
“My mom’s constantly trying to tell me the importance of experiencing everything and finding what you really like,” Libby said. “Once you find what you like, you can really make a difference.”
Her father Steven encouraged her, driving her to Roswell and practicing Russian even though he didn’t know how to speak it. “He’s always been pushing me forward,” she said.
Whenever Libby found something that interested her, they helped her explore it.
When her Russian class was discontinued at the high school, the teacher became her tutor. Now she’d like to enlighten people about the country and its culture. “It doesn’t necessarily reflect the people’s views what the political system does,” she said.
Graduation is still more than a month away, but she already is speeding ahead.
In a few weeks she leaves for the National Youth Science Camp in West Virginia, an honors program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Two students are chosen from each state and Latin American countries. “It’s really unbelievable that I have this opportunity,” she said.
She’s been looking forward to an overnight stay planned at the national radio telescope, one of the most sensitive in the world.
“It allows you to see the different galaxies,” she said. “I’m really excited … I’m going to learn how to use it.”
The experience also will involve a dinner with a yet-to-be-named scientist and senators.
Midway through the monthlong camp she will fly in for graduation and give the valedictorian speech. She’ll be home for just a day before heading back to West Virginia.
She doesn’t want to miss anything. She’s pleased that most of the schedule is kept deliberately vague so students are surprised by what happens.
“That’s what science is,” Libby said. “They want you to kind of discover everything. I like that mentality.”