Rachel Siddall’s pursuit of academic excellence has been constant. Still, the path
that she has followed, to pursue her goals in learning, and the completion of her
Ferris State University Bachelor of Science in Clinical Laboratory Sciences degree
has been impacted by personal desire and uncontrollable circumstances.
Siddall had a keen desire to pursue opportunities in welding, which the Cadillac High School graduate developed through two years of study at the Wexford-Missaukee Intermediate School District’s Career-Tech Center.
A nearby opportunity was too attractive to pass up.
“Ferris was close to home and made a great scholarship offer,” Siddall said. “I was also well aware of the prominence that the Welding program enjoyed, which was a big factor as I made my choice.”
She started in Welding Engineering Technology during the Fall 2014 semester and began an unbroken string of dean’s list appearances as Siddall completed her first year of that Bachelor of Science program.
“I really enjoyed the hands-on aspect of the learning activities in Welding, but I was also aware that as a Welding Engineering Technology graduate, those kinds of opportunities would not be part of my professional responsibilities,” Siddall said. “I was always interested in completing my degree at Ferris because I have always felt so comfortable with the university and the Big Rapids campus. For my own sake, I decided it was time to consider other programs and what they might offer.”
During the transition, as she continued to complete her general education requirements, Siddall found a spark of interest, fueled by her success in Biology and Microbiology classes.
“They allowed me to be active in my application of mathematics and science studies,” Siddall said. “It was around this time that I made a review of the university’s academic programs and found that I was very interested in what Clinical Laboratory Sciences could offer.”
Her discovery led to a visit with Clinical Laboratory Sciences Program Coordinator Daniel DeRegnier. Siddall said that she “was sold” on the program at that point.
“I generally studied on my own,” Siddall said. “I did enjoy and participate in weekly study sessions with other CLS students, which we held in the Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education.”
She also collaborated with her peers in a campus registered student organization.
“I joined the Association of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, and served as its president for the 2018-19 academic year,” Siddall said. “It was a point of pride that our executive board worked to bring in a number of speakers in our field. We also sought to increase awareness of the CLS program by hosting an open house for our families, friends and other Ferris students.”
It did not end there.
“We collaborated with the ‘Love Your Melon’ RSO to offer a bone marrow donor drive. We found success in that effort since more than 30 students signed up to enter the registry,” Siddall said. “Finally, we were able to make a presentation and earn a travel grant from the Center for Leadership, Activities and Career Services that allowed nearly a dozen of our members to attend the 2019 American Society of Clinical Laboratory Sciences-Michigan Conference in East Lansing. I got so much great experience from participating in and contributing to these efforts.”
Siddall noted that her relationships with Clinical Laboratory Sciences peers also helped her to advance her opportunities to gain experience and exposure in the field.
“A student who was a year ahead of me in the program told me of her experiences with a summer internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota,” she said. “I decided to pursue the same opportunity and was very pleased to be accepted.”
Siddall interned in Mayo’s Infectious Disease Serology Lab, where her main duty was to take up what is known as a QuantiFERON Assay.
“I would shadow medical laboratory technicians were active in these studies,” Siddall said. “My main role was to verify patient identification details and the quality of the specimens that were before us. The summertime is the peak exposure period for Lyme Disease, so that kept us quite busy.”
Other internship aspects included tours of the Mayo Clinic laboratories and on-campus lectures from physicians and lab directors.
“I was proud to represent Ferris there, to help others be aware that our CLS program should be considered with the major colleges and universities that my internship peers attended,” Siddall said. “I know that this opportunity helped me to build my confidence and gain experience at one of the most prominent medical facilities in the country.”
In Fall 2019, Siddall learned that she received an American Proficiency Institute scholarship, an honor given to just five students across the country. She applied her scholarship to her lodging costs for an internship with the University of Michigan Health Services in Ann Arbor during Spring 2020.
‘I was able to complete rotations in microbiology, chemistry and immunology,” Siddall said. “As the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic became evident, Ferris had sent out word that we should conclude our involvement, which came just prior to things really getting crazy.”
Being on site at a major regional health center, as these developments took place, gave Siddall a unique perspective on the pandemic and its demands on the research community.
“It was certainly difficult to keep track of the latest developments, because of the flood of information that came our way,” Siddall said. “The system’s microbiology lab was the site of COVID-19 testing, with word coming down just before my internship ended, about new research platforms that were going to be used. It definitely was disappointing to come back without completing my internship, but I am certainly glad to have completed my section in microbiology.”
Siddall returned to her family’s home in Cadillac, though she maintained contact with associates in Ann Arbor.
“A position in the Microbiology lab was posted during my internship, and I am extremely honored to have been their choice for this role,” Siddall said. “I see this as my dream job and cannot wait to begin work, as it is a great opportunity to contribute to the efforts of this operation.”
Based on the latest available information, Rachel expects to join the UMHS staff and start her career in Ann Arbor on Monday, May 11.
“Indications are that my start date will mesh well with University of Michigan Health System’s desires to begin my training, but stay in step with social distancing guidelines, while limiting any risk of presenting cross-contamination in our work space,” Siddall said. “I will be able to step right into their COVID-19 study and response in my favorite lab. It is exciting to have the opportunity to do some good, in support of the search for solutions in this pandemic.”
The end of Siddall’s internship, the countdown to graduation and the start of her career has had an unexpected benefit. Rachel spent time at home with her mother, Deb, a teacher in the Lake City school district, and her father, Bill Schmid, an engineer with a Borg-Warner facility in Cadillac.
“They make it clear how proud they are of me,” Siddall said. “All indications are that I will graduate Summa Cum Laude from Ferris, and I have been so grateful for their support. They have shared my excitement about my accomplishments and opportunities, and we are all very much looking forward to seeing what will come my way in the future.”