Alumni adventures: Catching up with student intern Daniel Million

| Written by Monica May
Daniel Million in lab wearing lab coat and smiling

Million reflects on how a summer internship at Sanford Burnham Prebys accelerated his scientific career.

Daniel Million was always fascinated by biology. But, like most high school students, he wasn’t sure what life as a scientist was really like. That all changed when he had the opportunity to complete a summer internship at Sanford Burnham Prebys.

Daniel Million and his mother Woinitu Zewde
Daniel Million poses with his mom, Woinitu Zewde, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 10 years old—an experience that only furthered his interest in biomedical research. Today Zewde is cancer-free and doing well.

“We thought it would be a strict environment where we were all very serious, with nobody talking,” says Million. “But my mentors both made the work in the research lab exciting. They taught me early on that you can have fun while doing great science.”

For six weeks during the summer of 2013, he and nine other classmates from the Preuss School at UC San Diego—a charter school for students who would be the first in their families to graduate from college—gained valuable laboratory skills while working directly with cancer researchers.

“Now that I’ve had the opportunity to do biological research in college and grad school, I look back and am amazed at what we were able to accomplish while in high school,” says Million. “We were doing PCRs, gel electrophoresis—techniques you usually don’t get to experience until college. They gave us a great preview of what it’s like to work in science.”

Million believes that this experience gave him a leg up that led to his acceptance to the University of Southern California, and to his receipt of a prestigious GATES Millennium scholarship, which covered all of his college costs through graduation. The benefits also extended to when he arrived on campus to start his degree.

Daniel Million posing and smiling on Imperial Beach Pier
When he's not working hard in the lab, Daniel Million can often be found at the beach. Here, he pauses for a moment while walking on Imperial Beach Pier.

“When you go into a research lab, that can be an intimidating place,” says Million. “If I didn’t get the chance to build my confidence in the research setting, I don’t feel that I would have performed as well when I got to college.”

Today, Million is wrapping up his master’s degree in infectious disease at Keck Graduate Institute. Whatever his future holds—perhaps medical school, or a master’s degree in public health—he remains a supporter of the internship program.

“This experience not only changed my life but changed a lot of students’ lives at Preuss,” says Million. “For a student who is going to be a first-generation college student, and who is already going to have a lot of barriers entering higher education, this is the extra push and extra knowledge they need to be successful.”

This internship was funded by the National Cancer Institute’s Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program, which supports training and career-development opportunities from middle school through junior investigator levels with the goal of increasing diversity in the cancer research workforce.

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