Matthew White ’20 Wins Saint Mary’s De La Salle Award

Matthew WhiteThis year, dedicated senior Biochemistry major Matthew White has been chosen as the winner of Saint Mary’s highest honor, the De La Salle Award. A quick look at his resume reveals why: The tireless senior is a burst of energy, intelligence, and devotion. The De La Salle honor is given annually to the graduating senior with the highest record for scholarship and general excellence. White’s contributions to the College set him apart from the many talented, dedicated students nominated for the award, and the 19 who chose to write essays to apply for it.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be selected…and it’s something that’s incredibly humbling to me and gratifying as well for the efforts I’ve made throughout my time at Saint Mary’s,” White said about becoming the 2020 De La Salle Award winner.

Originally from Plano, Texas, White is an aspiring physician with interests in both clinical medicine and biomedical research, and he has solid plans for the future. “I’m doing a couple of gap years between Saint Mary’s and medical school,” White said. “I’m going to do research at UCSF. Essentially, it’s cell biology, tissue engineering research, and we’re focusing on some areas of human development and regeneration and disease, with heavy implications in terms of cancer treatment,” he added. 

That’s his plan for the next two years or so. After that? “I think I'm actually going to end up applying to an MD/PhD program,” White said, mentioning that this requires eight years’ worth of work.

Associate Professor of Psychology Paul Zarnoth, chair of the Undergraduate Educational Policy Committee that chose White for the award, said they were struck by White’s “academic excellence and were particularly impressed by [his] dedication to biochemical research and ability to frame it as a critical form of service to the community at large. In addition, we also wanted to note [White’s] ability to communicate scientific information to others—an incredibly important talent for a modern scientist.”

White has worked for nearly two years as an undergraduate student researcher with Associate Professor of Biology Sonya Schuh. He was initially involved in a collaboration between Schuh’s lab and surgeon Dr. David Sahar at UC Davis Medical Center, in starting a project at SMC that involved the use of stem cells in cell and tissue regeneration. White said that the lab work was conducted mostly at Saint Mary’s. He has carried on this project under Schuh’s mentorship and done multiple honors independent studies with her during his time at SMC.

White’s wide-ranging research experience has led him to forge deep relationships with his mentors in the lab. In this regard, Schuh refers to White as a gem. “He has truly become one of the pioneers and leaders in my lab, paving a whole new research direction on using mammalian stem cells to create neuron support cells and other cell types, with implications for regenerative medicine,” Schuh said. “Matt has amazed me with his level of maturity, devotion, intellect, and creativity. He also has a fantastic work ethic, and excellent communication skills, self-sufficiency, and critical thinking,” she added. “Matt's skillset, drive, and talents are so impressive—he’s already working at a graduate level.”

Schuh noted that White’s project will be continued by other students and that he will be a coauthor on the publication of this work. “Matt is a great leader, thinker, and scientist. And he’s just an all-around good human being. He has helped coordinate, train, and collaborate with numerous other students over the years.

“As he flies away from SMC and continues on with his future career in science and medicine, I know his future is so very bright, and he will make a truly positive difference in the lives of so many,” Schuh said.

In addition to his extensive lab work, White saw his research published in a national academic journal, XChanges: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Technical Communication, Rhetoric, and Writing Across the Curriculum, Issue 14.2. His paper, “A Disconnect in the Process and Understanding of Prescription Medications,” examined “if patients understand their prescribed medication and the effects of using them, through communication with their physician and the use of patient leaflets (Medication Guides) that come with the medication,” wrote White in his study.

“Without a general knowledge of the medications they are taking, patients are unaware of the effects and potential risks the medication may impose…. With a doctor being potentially manipulated by a pharmaceutical representative to push a certain medication, along with a patient’s possible aversion to medicine that is not discussed, the medication the patient is prescribed may not be the most beneficial for their particular illness or case,” White added in his article.

White wrote his research report in Assistant Professor of English Meghan Sweeney’s English 5 Research and Argument course, and she was thrilled to see it published in a major journal. “Matthew White is an exceptional and Matthew White in the lab.ambitious scholar, writer, and human,” she said. “When I invited students in English 5 to try to publish their work, he was immediately interested. He revised his final research essay for a public audience, processed revision suggestions, and worked his revision time around big exams in his science classes.

“Now, it is a published academic article that will help other students across the nation who are interested in ethical issues in medical writing,” Sweeney noted.

Sweeney added that Xchanges typically publishes work from students who are majoring in professional or technical writing—and often the writers are in their third or fourth year of college. “Matthew published his essay from his first year of college. That is a telling display of how accomplished he is as a writer and scholar,” said Sweeney.

White was drawn to Saint Mary’s to play soccer and because he liked the sound of the small, Catholic College. He says that Saint Mary’s “helped open my eyes to the pathways available in science. There’s a common misconception that the only route in science is to eventually become a doctor. Through the research I’ve done at Saint Mary’s with faculty, I’ve been exposed to all these different areas of science and all these different pathways that you can pursue,” he said.

White’s career aspirations were affirmed during his internship at Gilead, which he found crucial, and he is sure that being a Saint Mary’s student made his experience there possible. “That was more great exposure to the translational ends of research and how the work you're doing in lab quite literally has direct implications on human life and benefiting patients,” he said.

White directly experienced the Saint Mary’s mission of serving others during Jan Term, crediting his Lasallian Internship trip to the Dominican Republic as a pivotal moment in his journey here. “That experience represented the Saint Mary’s mission for me. It was an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and be in areas that are impoverished, which is essentially the Lasallian mission in its own right.”

His campus involvement includes serving as a Chemistry tutor with the Tutorial and Academic Skills Center, where he held one-on-one tutoring sessions to facilitate and improve student performance in General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry. In addition, White worked with the Career and Professional Development Services Office for three years.

White keeps the Lasallian mission close to his heart, which may be what makes him such a great candidate for this award. He is a volunteer for the Knights of Columbus, where he organizes biannual food drives that generate over $10,000 in goods for the local crisis and outreach centers; and a volunteer for the Alameda County Community Food Banks, working on poverty alleviation. He has made the Academic Dean’s List numerous times, and was named in the 2016–2017 West Coast Conference Commissioner’s Honor Roll-Gold Honors.

Saint Mary’s College extends our deepest congratulations to Matthew White and can’t wait to see what he does next.