Timberview Senior Makes History With Extracurricular Achievement
Timberview High School senior Lauren Thornton (center) with her mother, Cynthia (left), and UT Southwestern STAR program manager Lynn Tam (right).
Lauren Thornton, a senior at Timberview High School, made history as the first Mansfield ISD student to be selected as an intern with the STARS Summer Research Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center. As one of 40 selected from a pool of more than 800 students from across the Metroplex, Thornton had the opportunity to take part in graduate-level research alongside a Nobel Prize-winning doctor.
"It was really an honor for me to be accepted because there’s so many people who applied," Thornton said. "Those interviews are very scary. When I walked out I didn’t think I was going to get it. It was awesome. It was a lifechanging experience to be in the lab, so I’m really grateful to be doing that."
Thornton's research was centered around the rare disease, congenital generalized lipodystrophy, which prevents its patients’ bodies from producing fat storage cells (called adipocytes). "This leads to a variety of metabolic complications including the development of diabetes, fat accumulation in the liver, muscular hypertrophy," Thornton reported in a presentation about her work.
The initial application process included submitting SAT/ACT/PSAT scores, transcripts, an essay, and a letter of recommendation from a counselor and science teacher. Out of 800 applicants, 100 were chosen to move on to the next round. Thornton was chosen after being interviewed, and she was paired up with a principal investigator to begin work in the lab.
The biggest challenge, she said, was learning the background information about the disease. Since the work is graduate level, the terminology is quite advanced. However, Thornton also learned lessons outside of the scope classroom and the lab.
"The biggest thing I learned is that I have to be balanced as an individual," she said. "It’s easy to set up in a lab and become a mad scientist type. It’s not uncommon for experiments to fail. You need to be able to balance lab life or whatever you’re doing with stuff outside of that. All you are doing shouldn’t be in the lab. You need to get out and do stuff and socialize."
Thornton is far from the "mad scientist" type she describes. She is also the drum major of the Timberview marching band and president of the spelling team. Outside of school, she is also involved with the media team at her church, responsible for controlling audio and visual equipment.
As for the future, Thornton hopes to major in cellular and molecular biology, which comes from her experience in the lab through the summer research program.
"That’s one of the main reasons I applied, to give me some direction," she said. "It helped me to narrow down and brought in my scope. I see there are so many fields out there that someone can go into."
Science wasn't always a passion for Thornton. In middle school, she hoped to be an actress or a writer. She said Lisa Davis, then science teacher at James Coble Middle School, directed students into a science competition. It was there Thornton said she realized the beauty of the scientific process. Davis continued to be an inspiration and mentor for Thonrton as she became a counselor at Timberview.
Thornton also acknowledged her parents. "They’ve also been really awesome to me and always encouraging me to try my best at everything."
As for words of advice to students looking to follow in her footsteps, Thornton's can-do attitude shines through.
"The biggest thing is don’t ever say you can’t do anything," she said. "Don’t limit yourself. I didn’t expect to be accepted. I just went ahead and applied. It’s an amazing opportunity. If you get into the program, it’s going to be challenging, but you have to keep moving forward."