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In the lab and in life, St. Paul VI senior sees ‘the beauty in every little thing’

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When Camila Gutierrez is in the science lab, she can “appreciate the beauty of the small things — and I mean very small things,” she said. “Under the microscope, everything has an order to it, and everything is so perfect. Sometimes it does help you see the beauty in every little thing.”


A senior at St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly, Gutierrez excels at science and research, but she also has a heart for service, a love of animals and a positive outlook in the face of uncertainty.


She’s won international science awards and had her work published in student science journals. Her can-do approach has helped her turn the stress and uncertainty of high school during a global pandemic into opportunities to explore and challenge herself in new ways.


When a much-anticipated cultural exchange trip to Japan through the High School Diplomats scholarship program was put on hold because of the pandemic, she pivoted gracefully to another project, assembling a team to join a six-week independent research program studying pandemic science online with a biology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Ind. “It’s fascinating to discuss the epidemiology of viruses,” she said.


Gutierrez is bilingual; her parents are electrical engineers who came to the United States from Colombia as graduate students. Yearly trips back to visit relatives have given her a global outlook, a love of international travel and “a deep desire to serve my Hispanic community,” she said. In July 2019, she traveled with her dad, sister and cousin on a medical mission trip with Somos Amigos, a nonprofit that takes U.S. doctors, nurses and dentists to volunteer at a rural health clinic. She was the youngest Spanish translator on the trip. “It helped me see not only how fortunate I am (to have access to health care), but to see people coming together for a common cause to help with cross-cultural disparities,” she said.


On Saturdays, she works as a veterinary assistant intern at Clarendon Animal Care in Arlington, where she takes vitals, helps run tests, assists with X-rays and restocks supplies.


“I love animals, and I’d love to work at the intersection of global health and veterinary science,” said Gutierrez, who’s still finalizing college plans. She took the initiative to seek out the volunteer gig at the end of eighth grade, after “getting brushed off by four or five other vets who said ‘Sorry, you’re too young.’ ”


Gutierrez, who’s done agility training with her own dog, a small white Coton de Tuléar, founded Paws Fur a Good Cause, an animal service club that organizes projects for local animal shelters and brings in animal experts, such as therapy dog handlers, to speak to students. “One of our first meetings was packed, because everybody wanted to pet the dogs,” she said.


Her work at the vet clinic led to independent research on the link between popular grain-free diets and canine dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart disease in dogs. The Food and Drug Administration is looking into the connection, and Gutierrez made a video about it, which won first place in the Girls International Three-Minute Science Competition.


She’s also done independent research on the use of an antibiotic called thiostrepton as a possible treatment to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells, which she got interested in last year “during study hall, when I found myself in the library reading Science magazine,” she said. Her reading progressed to testing different concentrations of the antibiotic with cell cultures in the lab, and writing an article for the international Young Scientists Journal.


But she doesn’t spend all her time in the lab. “I’m not a geek, I also like hanging out with friends and I like to dance,” she said. Her non-science activities include being president of Pink and White, a PVI religious service club for girls. “It allows me to give back to the community, while also growing deeper in my faith,” she said.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021