Meet a Summer Term student who’s full of heart

Sara Kaska holding a red Badger t-shirt and cup and smiling

Sara Kaska (she/her) is a rising junior from Pewaukee, Wisc., majoring in neurobiology and Spanish. She’s designed a Summer Term that helps her meet her academic goals while still giving her time to do research on campus and work at a rewarding job with UW Health. Of course, she’ll also spend time on the Terrace. Thanks for sharing your summer experience, Sara!

What course or courses are you taking this Summer Term and how will this help you meet your academic goals?

I’m only taking one class: Spanish 225, which is a Spanish linguistics class. We’re about halfway through; it’s only a 4-week class!

I’m a double major (neurobiology and Spanish), which means there’s a lot to fit into four years! Taking summer classes helps cut back on the semester workload. There’s also the fact that sometimes, classes don’t fit in your fall/spring schedule, so taking it over the summer when you have the time is a perfect alternative. I took Chemistry 343 last summer. Taking these classes will help me graduate on time in four years.

You’re also doing research this summer. Tell us about that and how it fits in with your academic interests.

I just started working in Dr. Lee Eckhardt’s lab studying arrhythmias. To briefly explain, an arrhythmia is an abnormal beat, or ‘rhythm,’ of the heart, which can sometimes be fatal. Our lab is looking at different genetic mutants, determining their function, and cataloging which treatments are the best.

Rising junior Sara Kaska on the Terrace.

Cardiology has always been a huge passion of mine and working in a lab is perfect as a pre-medicine student. While I may be a neurobiology major, which focuses a lot on psychology and the brain, being involved in research (to any extent) is a fantastic experience. So far, I’ve learned several different assay techniques and gained a general understanding of bench work, with micro pipetting and centrifuging.

In the future, I want to work in a teaching hospital, and sometimes you get the opportunity to lead your own research. Participating in research as an undergraduate is the best way to learn if you like benchwork and academic research, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity!

You’re working, too. Tell us about your position and the most rewarding parts of the job. 

I could talk about my job all day. I’m a nursing assistant (NA) working in the cardiovascular lab, or cath lab, at UW Hospital. The cath lab is where you go if you have any type of structural heart problem that can be solved or investigated without open heart surgery; while open heart surgery is obviously very invasive, the cath lab can get access to the heart using only your arteries, veins and several really long catheters. We see anything from aortic valve repairs to heart attacks, which makes it an awesome place to learn anything and everything about the heart.

I’d say that the most rewarding part of my job is interacting with the patients. Having any catheterization procedure feels a lot like surgery, which creates a lot of anxiety for our patients. Just taking a moment to ask them about their jobs, pets (I get to see the cutest puppy pictures sometimes!) and life before going back to the procedure room is my favorite. Something else that I love not only about my role specifically, but health care in general, is to be able to see change immediately. Especially with heart attacks, having a patient come in, having our physicians fix the problem and then seeing them get better blows my mind every time. It sounds like an ad for UW, but I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else!

What are your future career goals, and how do you hope to apply the knowledge from your neurobiology and Spanish majors?

Sara Kaska in scrubs, taking a selfie in a mirror, masked
Sara Kaska is working for UW Health this summer.

I’m hoping to go to medical school and become a physician after I graduate from UW–Madison. As of right now, I’m looking at going into emergency/flight medicine or trauma surgery, but working in the cath lab has really made me partial to cardiology.

When it comes to looking at my majors, I would advise any pre-med student to look into neurobiology; sure, we have to take pre-requisite classes for medical school, but getting to take psychology and neuroscience classes makes it enjoyable! I think that my Spanish major will be beneficial, especially in health care. Madison has a large Spanish-speaking population, and being able to speak to my patients in their own language is incredibly rewarding.

Since you’ll be spending the summer on campus, do you have any plans to enjoy Madison or surrounding areas?

I can’t wait to hang out on the Terrace! The Rath has the best burgers, and I’m excited to have my friends from out of town come visit and see campus life. My goal is to try some of the different restaurants on State Street and to finally try the food trucks on Library Mall. On the weekends, I’m hoping to get out to the Capitol for the Dane County Farmers’ Market– they have the best breakfast foods, flowers and amazing smoothies.

Learn more about UW–Madison Summer Term and designing a summer that’s perfect for you.