Jessica Leuchter has contributed research to several peer-reviewed publications and recently worked as a lead author of a review commemorating the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the Israel Journal of Chemistry. After graduation, Jessica will participate in the Kupcinet-Getz International Science School at the Weizmann Institute of Science with Professor Koby Levy at the Department of Structural Biology. She also plans to apply to M.D.-Ph.D. programs.
Q: Describe your research work in physics.
A: For the past year and a half, I have been conducting research with Samuel Cho, assistant professor of computer science and physics. We used computer modeling to simulate Methionyl-tRNA Synthetase, which aids in protein formation. The purpose of our research is to simulate processes at the molecular scale and uncover specific components of the chemical reaction that cannot be seen with experiments.
This past February, I presented our findings at the “Physics of Bimolecular Folding and Assembly: Theory Meets Experiment” conference at the Karslruhe Institute of Technology. We are currently summarizing our results in a manuscript for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
Q: How have you changed since first arriving on campus?
A: I knew I was gay in high school and even came out to my family, but when I came to college, I tried to repress this part of myself. After I became comfortable on campus, I decided to come out to my friends. I realized that they were all accepting of my identity—it was I who was not.
I have begun to share my experience through the LGBTQ center and the Wake Forest community to give others courage, strength and a sense of solidarity. Because I held a secret for years, I was ashamed and disappointed in myself for feelings I had been taught were unacceptable by society. My mission in being open and frank with my story is to prevent others from continuing to endure similar feelings of shame and disappointment. Telling my story helps humanize what it means to be LGBTQ and creates room for dialogue to empower others. By being open, I was able to bring my whole self to Wake Forest.
Q: What extracurricular activity did you enjoy most and why?
A: During my first-year I joined Hillel, the campus Jewish organization, and became a member of the executive council. When I first started hosting Shabbat dinners, the group was small – our first dinner had only five members, including the rabbi and myself. However, during my sophomore year, our numbers increased dramatically due to our personalized outreach and association with other campus organizations. I really loved sharing my culture with those not of the Jewish faith and learning about their beliefs and backgrounds while enjoying a family style dinner.
The success of the Shabbat dinners prompted me to utilize its sense of community to expand its scope. I used Shabbat in different teaching events, such as a building-wide resident advisor program in Babcock. We also collaborated with the Organization of Latin American Students to create a program called Diverse Dining: Around the Same Table. Shabbat has also served as a place for me to meld my Jewish faith together with my queer identity at Gay-Straight Student Alliance Shabbat dinners.
Q: Who were your mentors? Your biggest cheerleaders?
A: I would like to thank Professor Cho, Hillary Lambert and Ashley Jones. Together, these three individuals have brought out the professional and personal sides of me. Professor Cho has helped me further develop my skills and realize that I would like to pursue a career in research in addition to being a physician. He kindled my interest in research and taught me how to be a mentor. Professor Cho is concerned not only with how well I do in class or with research, but also with how I am doing mentally and socially, an attribute I’ve appreciated greatly. He always wanted to make sure I had a balanced workload and could simply enjoy the experience of being a student. Hillary and Ashley took me under their wing and helped me understand and normalize my identity. They were always free when I needed to talk and share my ideas. They were the perfect support system and I feel so fortunate to have met such amazing role models.
Q: What is the best advice you can give an incoming first-year student?
A: Don’t let others put you in a box. Be confident that all of your identities can mesh together.