Incoming BME student reflects on biotech internship and NYU Tandon plans

student presenting research poster

Aaron-Arthur Kennedy could have spent the summer hanging out with friends or earning pocket money at one of the myriad restaurants or shops in the Boston area, where he lives. Instead, he chose to spend an intense six weeks learning about aseptic technique, polymerase chain reactions, gel electrophoresis, and other such topics thanks to an internship at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a Boston-based biotech company.

Vertex aims to develop innovative treatments for serious illnesses like sickle cell disease and transfusion-dependent beta thalassemia, genetic blood disorders that affect millions of people worldwide; APOL1-mediated kidney disease, which is caused by a genetic variation among people who have Western and Central African ancestry; cystic fibrosis; and type 1 diabetes.

“I was particularly interested to learn about islet cells, which produce a hormone called insulin in the pancreas and help keep blood sugar levels regulated, since there are people in my family who have diabetes,” Aaron explains. “I’d like to look into the role they play through my own independent research in the future.”

Aaron is naturally introverted and says the internship also helped him hone his presentation skills and showed him the importance of collaborative work — qualities that will serve him well as an incoming member of NYU Tandon’s Class of 2027. 

When asked what excites him most about beginning his college career in Brooklyn, the list is long. During his Vertex internship, Aaron had a chance to interact with younger students at the Boys & Girls Club of Boston, where he led them through hands-on experiments with DNA extraction and cystic fibrosis mucus modeling, so he can foresee getting involved in Tandon’s Center for K-12 STEM Education. He’s also interested in working in the MakerSpace and potentially joining one of the multidisciplinary Vertically Integrated Projects teams like iGEM, whose members leverage synthetic biology to solve real-world problems, or Everyday Assistive Technology, where students have developed custom orthotics and other tools to make life easier for people with varied needs. “I’m also planning to be active in the NYU student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers,” he says, “but my priority is going to be studying and doing well in my classes, because I know how rigorous the curriculum is at Tandon.”  

His colleagues who worked with him at Vertex have no doubt that he’ll excel. 

“We’re very intentional about recruiting students for our internship programs who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers, and we curate hands-on experiences that will prepare them well for the next stage of their journeys,” says Melodie Knowlton, Ph.D., Senior Director of STEAM Education at Vertex. “We all feel so excited that Aaron is headed to a place like NYU Tandon, where he’ll be both supported and challenged. We’re looking forward to hearing about everything he accomplishes there, and who knows, maybe one day he will return to Vertex as a researcher, as other former interns have. Whatever the future holds for Aaron, I’m very glad to have met him and to have seen him flourish during our summer internship!”