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Nicola Gerbino: Kids, Wilderness and Cancer Detection

Nicola Gerbino is a senior public health and Spanish major. She works for Kids on Campus, serves as a leader on the Into the Wild outdoors club and is working on a cervical cancer detection senior design project.


In this interview, Nicola shares about how swimming shaped her life, what she has learned from working with kids, her future plans, all about her senior design project and her favorite outdoor adventures. Enjoy!

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Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: What have you learned from working with the Kids on Campus program?


Nicola Gerbino: I’ve learned a lot from both the kids and the teachers. There’s the hard skills in terms of best practices in childhood education, which I find fascinating. I found out that I really love working with children and watching them develop and explore the world. That has guided me into wanting to go into pediatrics in the future.


Every time a kid does something, it’s kind of like a new experience, and college courses can get pretty monotonous. For the kids, being able to put their shoes on is exciting. It’s about remembering that small things in life can be exciting.

I’ve also learned a lot of interpersonal skills from kids. I work with younger kids who are still developing language skills. When someone takes a toy away from someone else, I can guide that interaction. I think the adult world can learn from the principles of sitting down and listening and understand what someone is experiencing or why they’re upset.


GC: How did you first get interested in public health or medicine?


NG: Both of my parents are physicians as well as lots of family friends. I grew up and always knew I liked science and the human body. At the age of seven I wrote down that I wanted to be a doctor. That’s swayed a little since them questioning what degree I wanted. Coming into Santa Clara, I was a biology major and was taking the intro biology series.


I realized there was a whole human side to health that we can’t escape as a society. Public health touches more on that, and I eventually landed there. I think it’s prepared me to take a human-centered approach to health care both for myself, friends and maybe future patients.


GC: How did you get involved with the CERVIS (Cervical Cancer Early Response Visual Identification System)?


NG: CERVIS is a senior design project, and I’m on a team with four bio-engineers and two other health and biology students. We are trying to create a low-cost diagnosis tool for cervical cancer using changes in the vaginal microbiome. A lot of people have heard of the stomach microbiome and how bacteria can help or harm us. We have microbiomes all over our body and the vagina is one of those. We’re looking at changes in a certain bacteria that come up when there are cancer precursors, or hopefully eventually HPV.


Our target population is in Kenya right now, so hopefully it will be low-cost and effective. We’re in the lab right now testing different things.


GC: If you could send a message to every person in the United States, what would you want to say?


NG: I think it would be to keep an open mind, listen to each other and create empathy for one another. And using the empathy as a foundation to listen, understand and really hear someone, because I think our nation is so divided. I think that human connection can create a community in which we work together and be the next step in fixing a lot of the social and political problems going on.


GC: What does an ideal Saturday look like for you?


NG: If I’m here on campus, I like to wake up pretty early and go on a trail run with friends. I like Castle Rock, Windy Hill and Rancho San Antonio. Then on the way back, stopping by a cute café to get a pastry and coffee. Making a good breakfast and spending time with housemates and friends, spending time outside. Then probably going to Santa Cruz to watch the sun set if it’s a good one. Maybe a craft night at the end.

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