Defying Disabilities: RCPD Student Pushes Boundaries Through Unique Internship

March 16th, 2018

Paola Delaj

Nikaela Losievski, a junior neuroscience major, is redefining boundaries in field research. As a student with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), Losievski struggles with limited mobility due to the death of nerve cells leading to muscle cells not receiving signals for function. However, a decrease in function only continues to further inspire her in finding a cure for SMA, while she also remains active in other interests.

Before exploring research as a professional career, like many, Losievski struggled with developing into the person she wanted to be. During this growing process, she leaned on her biggest support system, her mother. “Ever since I was young, my mom never let me view my disability as something that would hinder what I could do in life,” said Losievski. “My mom and my disability have always been my biggest motivators. They’ve pushed me towards things I would normally view as challenging, but I know that because of the supportive people in my life, and my circumstances, I am able to push through everyday and only keep proving myself and others wrong on what is really limiting when you have a disability.” While holding on to this motivated perspective, Losievski explored taekwondo and became a second degree black belt. Reaching this goal, among others, motivated her to set out after her aspirations, which led her to a unique internship experience.

During Summer 2017, Losievski traveled to Kansas and participated in an internship program at Baker University, which provided field research experience for students with varying abilities. As an intern, her role in the research team involved rope climbing and collecting of scientific samples throughout the tree canopy. The research was later presented at the California Academy of Science in San Francisco.This internship was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and Baker University, with tree climbing lessons from Tree Climbers International (TCI). Through this opportunity, she sampled aspects of her future career in research, while overcoming challenges in the workplace.

Student high up on a tree collecting samples. Student smiling while up on a tree.
(Left) Nikki high up on a tree collecting samples. (Right) Nikki smiling while up on a tree.
 
Losievski’s efforts were recognized when she was selected among other interns to present the research in North Carolina. She won an award in her division of Undergraduate Ecology and Evolutionary Sciences for best presentation, as well as best Undergraduate Presentation. Reflecting on her summer experience, she remarked, “You just have to live. Don’t let things discourage you. Push the limits because this is your life, you got this.”
 
Student smiling in front of a presentation board while at a conference.
Nikki smiling in front of her presentation board about her research results at a conference.
 
Losievski hopes to further her academic career at her dream school at the University of Edinburgh, located in the United Kingdom, where she previously visited when studying abroad in 2016. She continues to remain energetic in her pursuits and taking on challenges with a limitless focus of the future.