Curious-Minded Nighthawk Begins Internship, Gaining Valuable Real-World Experience for Her Future Career

July 6, 2023

This summer, NOVA Nighthawk Spasenija Radenovic is thrilled to be doing a 10-week chemistry research internship. At Clemson University, she is working closely with a professor on research into developing a faster and more efficient COVID-19 test. At the end of the 10 weeks, Spasenija will present the findings to professors and researchers at the university.

Spasenija Radenovic

This internship, which wraps up on July 28, gives Spasenija her first hands-on research experience in the lab. She is also getting a taste of how her future career in research could be.

Spasenija has a curious mind and a passion for science, both necessary for a student wanting to major in biochemistry. She is especially excited about the potential of making discoveries to help people.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
I was born in Norfolk and lived in Arlington until my family and I moved to Alexandria about 10 years ago. I was homeschooled practically all my life. In about 7th grade, I started teaching myself through a homeschool curriculum that was online and self-directed. But classes were getting too challenging for me to teach myself anymore. That's when I graduated early from my homeschool and enrolled at NOVA.

As a teenager, I didn't feel gifted in all areas of academics. It was sometimes difficult to connect with the subject matter because I didn't have a teacher. But at NOVA, I really learned how to study and had great teachers who helped me understand the material. Now I'm doing really well and am happy with that. I have gained confidence in myself and feel more confident taking classes at NOVA because I have good teachers and, again, I figured out how to study well.

I've always had a connection to and a talent for chemistry. That's why I am a general science major at NOVA. After I graduate, I will major in biochemistry because I want a research career.

What brought you to NOVA?
As someone who was homeschooled without a teacher, I figured I would have difficulty in a university setting, both academically and socially. I thought if I attended community college first, it could help me transition into being a successful university student. Another thing was I lacked the money to go to a four-year university. 

In the spring of 2021, I started at NOVA. At first, all my classes were virtual. Then, from there, I took a mixture of in-person (Alexandria Campus) and virtual classes.  

What are you studying at NOVA?
I am studying general science. When I graduate and transfer to a four year, I will study biochemistry as a major and minor in Chinese.

Biochemistry is sometimes referred to as chemistry with a biology focus. I'm interested in discovering new things since I'm very curious. I want to do research into how to use biochemistry to help people, such as developing new medicines. Helping people and making interesting discoveries in the field will be the driving force behind my research.

I know I'm doing biochemistry as a bachelor’s, but I don't know what master's I want to take. It could be a more specific master's, something like pharmacology, but I am still deciding.

Tell us about your experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met)
I've loved almost every professor at NOVA, especially the STEM professors. They are very passionate about what they teach and incredibly patient, especially if you need extra help.

Apart from my STEM classes, I greatly appreciate Dr. Dali Tan. She is my Chinese professor, who told me about an opportunity that led me to a USAID internship. She's always sharing valuable opportunities with her students. Chinese is incredibly difficult to learn, but Professor Tan's been very helpful in learning such a complex language.

When I learn a language, I want it to be a language that will allow me to connect with many people, and I want to learn about the culture. Since I have some Chinese ancestry, I want to learn about my heritage.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
To make the most of your college experience, find professors who match your learning style. It is important to build connections with your classmates and professors. This can open up many opportunities. Additionally, take advantage of opportunities like internships, which can benefit you greatly as a college student.

Learning time management skills is crucial, especially since many community college students are very busy.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
I am currently studying at NOVA, intending to graduate in the spring of 2024. After that, I plan to transfer to the University of Virginia with guaranteed admission for the fall semester 2024. At UVA, I plan to pursue a bachelor's degree in biochemistry and conduct a lot of research as a student.

My long-term plan is to apply to graduate school and possibly look for a job to finance my graduate studies. I am considering UCLA because of its excellent biochemistry program, but I don't know where I'm going yet. That's for the future to decide.

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