MEET OUR GRADUATES: Sanchez is a Double Major, on the Dean’s List and Working Her Way Toward Dental School

Keesha Sanchez

“Many members of my family are doctors, so you could say that it runs in my blood,” says Keesha Sanchez.

It’s not uncommon for RIC students to graduate with two majors. Keesha Sanchez is one of them. She will earn degrees in both biology and chemistry, plus she will be walking across the commencement stage with an interesting resume that includes research and a strong GPA, which has put her on the dean’s list for the past four years.  

Sanchez has always wanted to go into either medicine or dentistry. She says, “Many members of my family in the Dominican Republic are doctors, so you could say that it runs in my blood.”

However, Sanchez admits that her freshman year in college was a struggle. “That was a very hard year for me as a first-generation student. I failed so badly that I took it as an example of what I didn’t want for myself,” she says. “That’s when I decided to look for mentors at RIC. Ever since, I have really taken my academics and the importance of excelling seriously.”  

Her favorite courses have been the ones that other students tend to be more nervous about, she says. “In biology, my favorite course was ‘Cellular and Molecular Biology,’ and in chemistry, the one that many students fear is ‘Physical Chemistry.’ I liked those classes because they were challenging. They helped me learn more, and what I’ve learned can be translated into real life.”

Sanchez is also a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a Departmental Honors in Biology student. Through the McNair program, she was able to conduct research with RIC Assistant Professor of Biology, Anika Toorie. 

“With Dr. Toorie, I did research on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – a condition in which excess fat builds up in your liver – to see how it differs in males and females,” she says. “I worked in Dr. Toorie’s lab for about a year and used my research as my honors thesis. Last month I earned honors for it, which is great.” 

Sanchez also conducted research on osteoporosis with the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and was part of a biofilm infection research project at URI through SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship).

A dual major and hands-on research aren’t the only things that kept Sanchez busy on campus. She also mentored her peers at the TRIO Student Support Services office. “I worked there for an academic year, but unfortunately I had to leave because I had two other jobs,” she says. “I worked one-on-one with students to help them with quizzes, study for exams and to share tips on how to pass classes that I had already taken.” 

Last semester, she was involved in the STEM Club, as well. “We had some recreational activities for students, informing them about potential careers in STEM, research opportunities and giving them as much advice as we could because a lot of them were new to RIC,” she says.

As for her professors at RIC, Sanchez says that all of them have been helpful. “As a freshman I didn’t know how to advocate for myself, but the teachers here have been very kind and supportive of everything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve also learned to advocate for myself, to be more persistent and to persevere,” she says. 

“I especially felt inspired by Dr. Toorie, because she is so motivating and strong,” Sanchez says. “Also Professor of Biology Dan Hewins is always there for his students. We all love him. And Associate Professor of Physical Sciences Chin Hin Leung was my chemistry adviser. He is always helpful.”  

As of today, Sanchez has been accepted into four master’s degree programs at prestigious universities. “I want to finish a master’s degree before going on to dental school. I’ve been accepted to NYU, with a full-tuition scholarship. That’s where I hope to go,” she says. “But I’m also waiting on an answer from the University of Pennsylvania. I really, really hope to get into that school as well.”

Find out more about the Department of Biology and the B.A. in chemistry program at RIC.