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Yuba native becomes shining science star at U.C. Davis
Larissa Miyachi loves to read, write children's fiction and sketch wildlife.
She also has a passion for attaching chemotherapy drugs to nearly invisible nanoparticles in hopes of improving cancer treatment.
At a U.C. Davis commencement ceremony earlier this month, the Oregon House resident was recognized with the university's highest student honor, the University Medal.
The award recognizes a graduating senior for excellence in undergraduate studies, outstanding community service and the promise of future scholarship and contributions to society.
Only one recipient is selected each year, and Miyachi was chosen from among more than 6,700 graduates. The University Medalists are said to exemplify the best of U.C. Davis.
"I really had a strong goal when I started college — I wanted to do my very best," Miyachi said.
The biochemistry and molecular biology major was home-schooled by her mother in the foothills from kindergarten onward. She graduated from high school a year early and enrolled at Yuba College two years to complete her general education and foundational science courses.
Once at U.C. Davis, she spent two summers interning at the Center for Biophotonics Science and Technology, where she was introduced to scientific research by working on potential cancer treatments.
Her senior year, Miyachi volunteered at U.C. Davis Medical Center, where she assisted nurses and cared for radiology and cardiology patients.
Raised in the foothills milking dairy goats, gardening and exploring the outdoors is what first triggered her science interests.
Miyachi said she thinks her her home-school experience was the best preparation for college.
"I was used to relying not on just the textbook or class but seeking extra information I needed," she said.
She expressed gratitude to her mother, Leanne, who raised Miyachi and four younger siblings, her father, David, who works in informational technology for Sutter County, and all the professors who have encouraged her.
"One of my favorite parts about the medal is it honors everyone who has invested time into me," she said.
Sean Burgess, U.C. Davis associate professor of molecular and cellular biology, met Miyachi in a molecular biology course and said the young student stood out immediately, whether asking insightful questions in class or teaching peers in office hours.
"That is where she really shined," Burgess said. "She could take complex material and basically distill a large amount of information she had really only heard moments before."
She and Miyachi remain in touch, after an in-class haiku contest spurred a project together to write stories anthropomorphising the cell cycle process. They hope it will become a book.
"Her creativity, in the combination of creative writing and science and teaching education, is just brilliant," Burgess said. "Of the 12 years I've been here at U.C. Davis, she's the student who had the biggest impact on me."
James Hildreth, dean of the College of Biological Sciences, said Miyachi was a prime candidate for the medal because of her outstanding academic achievement and laboratory performance.
"To be so motivated to be successful and all of that matched with a wonderful personality," Hildreth said. "She is destined for greatness. We will all be the better because of it."
Miyachi, 22, is now in a surgical premedical internship at U.C. Davis Surgical Center, where she rotates through specialties such as nose and throat, trauma and the burn unit.
She has applied for medical school at Harvard, John Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, University of Pennsylvania, and all UCs, including her dream school, U.C. San Francisco. She hopes she will be accepted next year.
Once established as a surgeon or physician, she would like to travel abroad and help people in other countries.
"This is just the beginning of my journey," she said.