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The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

Allied Health Professionals Panel gives guidance for careers in STEM

Val Vidal
Clinical Pharmacy Director Kimi Pontoppidan (pictured) shared her story about coming from a long line of pharmacists and not exploring that specific career until her volunteer experience in manufacturing drugs for breast cancer.

The Women In STEM Club at California Lutheran University hosted the Allied Health Professionals Panel on Monday, Oct. 30, where panelists discussed what their professional lives in STEM look like, and provided attendees a glimpse at possible careers and futures in STEM.

“I think it inspires girls on our campus to see that getting their dream job and career is attainable and that people just like us can do it too,” Women In STEM Club Vice President Alexis Jones said. 

The panel, which was part of a series of panel discussions promoting the different career paths in STEM that students can take, featured Physical Therapist Kristi Kerns, Dentist Sukhanchal Saini, Clinical Pharmacy Director Kimi Pontoppidan and Veterinarian and Cal Lutheran Professor Sarah Gonda as the panelists. 

Women in STEM Networking and Outreach Coordinator Elisha Tong said their previous panel consisted of medical professionals that included nurses and doctors, while the Allied Health Professionals Panel focused more on niche practices.

Kerns was the first panelist to speak, and talked about how she became a physical therapist, and the different environments a physical therapist can work in; which include neurology, geriatrics, skilled nursing, or working for a private practice. 

Kerns shared the pathway to becoming a physical therapist, which consists of getting a bachelor’s degree in a strong STEM field background, volunteering or finding a mentor. 

“I worked at a clinic and I had, you know, I had three or four PTs that I was, that were really pulling for me and had a lot of advice,” Kerns said. “Find yourself a mentor and you know me now, so I’m always open to any questions or anything like that.” 

Volunteering, Kerns said, is one of the best ways to find out what area to specialize in. 

“If you get yourself into the field where you can actually observe and see what’s going on, that’ll give you some insight,” Kerns said. 

Saini shared her experience as a woman of color in the medical industry, and the obstacles she faced as she completed her education in dental surgery in India. According to Saini, she had to redo her studies when she arrived in Canada in the year 2000. 

She said she chose to study business administration, which came in handy as she now owns two private dental practices.

Pontoppidan said although she comes from a long line of pharmacists, it did not occur to her to explore that career until her volunteer experience in manufacturing drugs for breast cancer. 

“This was not my forte. I was not good at this, it was not where I wanted to be. I decided I needed to find another career,” Pontoppidan said.

Gonda shared her journey into becoming a veterinarian, how she began teaching at Cal Lutheran and what her day as a veterinarian looks like. 

“I’m currently a lecturer here, and I’ve been a lecturer for a couple of years. I also serve on the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. So, researchers here at CLU who do research involving live animals have to come to me with their protocol to make, and I make sure that those animals are being treated well,” Gonda said.

Gonda said she had to find a schedule that worked for her and her family’s needs, and said one of her kids needed special medical care, so she took a couple of years off work. When it was time to go back to work, Gonda said, Cal Lutheran was a better opportunity. 

The panelists also spoke about the struggles they have faced in their career paths. Gonda said the most common struggle among veterinarians is the burnout that comes from taking their job home or overbooking their schedule.

Saini said her experience with burnout was a result of the understaffing dentists are facing. 

Jones said one of the desired outcomes of the Women In STEM Club is for students to learn about different career paths they can pursue in the STEM field. 

“They can pursue anything they want to, as long as they work hard and kind of fight for the opportunity to be in the field that they want to be in,” Jones said.

Women In STEM Club President Alina Tong said the panelists had different backgrounds and pathways that are a part of each of their specific career journeys, and they were brought thanks to the networking the club has done, which Alina Tong said is important, especially in STEM fields. 

The next Women In STEM Club meeting will be a self-care social held on Monday, Nov. 13 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

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