Senior Success: Stephen Natola ’21, biology major, learned invaluable research skills at Salve Regina
Editor’s Note: SALVEtoday is celebrating the Class of 2021’s Senior Week with specially curated content Monday, May 3 through Friday, May 7. Senior Week will be devoted to sharing special Senior Success stories and other content relevant to the Class of 2021. Check back each day to read stories about Salve Regina’s incredible seniors. For more Class of 2021 stories, go here.
Stephen Natola ’21, a biology major with a chemistry minor, is excited to begin Boston University’s doctor of physical therapy program on June 1. He’ll be living in Boston, Massachusetts, for at least the first year of his program, and he’s looking forward to experiencing such an iconic city and all it has to offer. After that, he may relocate based on his clinical placements.
“During this program, I’ll also be working for a … faculty member as a graduate-level researcher,” said Natola. “Some of my current research interests include concussion rehabilitation and biomechanics, as they relate to my injury history from basketball. I look forward to being part of a research team and contributing to a project that may ultimately help improve the lives of others.”
Natola’s ultimate goal is to become a licensed physical therapist. He’s not quite sure about the setting where he’d like to work in, but he does love working with children, so pediatrics might be where he ends up.
“Regardless of setting, my goal is to be the best physical therapist that I can be and to help the most people that I can,” he said. “In the past, physical therapists helped me recover from injuries and developed connections that empowered me to regain my self-confidence, strength and mobility. I aspire to provide that same level of professional care, support and hope for my future patients.”
As to his time at Salve Regina, Natola said that the one-on-one discussions he had with his professors are the highlight of his time here. “Those conversations have been special, and I’m not convinced that those scenarios happen at larger colleges and universities,” he said. “Being able to go to my teachers with questions and for advice has been incredibly valuable. These interactions helped me grow as a student and enabled me to form a closer bond with my professors.”
The opportunity to participate in faculty-led research was also a highlight of Natola’s education at Salve Regina, and he believes the experiences will undoubtedly benefit him during his graduate studies at Boston University.
“Choosing to get involved in faculty-led research was one of my best decisions at Salve Regina,” he said. “I never envisioned myself researching preconception PFOS exposures and working with fruit flies. However, this research ultimately became the basis of my senior thesis, and I learned valuable skills that I will carry with me into graduate school. Choosing to take chances, and to take advantage of unexpected opportunities, can be incredibly rewarding.”
Dr. Belinda Barbagallo, assistant professor of biology and biomedical sciences, was a supportive mentor to Natola, and he sees how his experiences in the lab have helped him develop stronger analytical, writing and presentation skills.
“The experience of conducting scientific research and presenting the results to an audience of faculty and peers was both challenging and rewarding,” he said. “Presenting at the RI Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) Conference, at SRYou Student Exposition Day, and presenting my senior thesis has helped make me a stronger and more confident communicator and public speaker. ”
Overall, Natola has been extremely grateful for his time at Salve Regina, and his involvement at the University has been very rewarding. Along with his extensive research opportunities, he was part of the men’s basketball team, and he also worked as a subject tutor, a writing consultant and a peer academic coach for fellow students at the Academic Center for Excellence.
“I feel prepared to pursue my career goals and life dreams,” he said. “Personally, I can say that I’m proud to have gone to Salve Regina, and I’m proud of what I have accomplished here. That would not have been possible without the amazing people in this community and the opportunities that I was fortunate enough to have.”