Alumna Success Story, Summer Bottomley
17 March 2021
“Everyone thrives most in his or her own unique environment.” – Marilu Henner
What Marilu Henner once said could not be any truer for Harford alumna Summer Bottomley ’19. She created a unique environment for herself at home, at Harford and in her current position. Unsure about her future after high school, Summer considered college but didn’t know if she could afford it. With less-than-ideal family circumstances, she received an offer to live rent free with some close friends in Harford County with the understanding that she’d attend college. Summer chose Harford as a first step. "Harford was the best option for me to begin my degree; it was affordable financially, and I could pick class times around my work schedule,” she said.
Summer decided on a biology track and excelled in her studies. As a biology major, she was exposed to courses in the newly created biotechnology program and her interests expanded. While seeking out classes within the biotechnology program, she gained valuable experiences. Some of her most significant work was with classmates to complete DNA barcoding of a plant from the Harford greenhouse. They were able to confirm the identity of the plant by extracting its DNA and analyzing its DNA sequence. She and her classmates presented their research as a poster project at the Maryland Collegiate STEM Conference.
Summer continued to pursue her degree and was determined to explore all her options. She completed a summer internship co-op in the STEM department with Associate Professor of Biology & Biotechnology Jackie Madden as her advisor. She worked diligently on several bioinformatics programs, including Harford’s “DNA Barcoding a College Campus Arboretum” project. Her skills were tested as she had to confirm and catalog DNA sequencing (DNA barcoding) information for numerous trees on campus. “We wanted someone with additional experience to go back through the data and confirm accuracy. Summer used bioinformatics techniques and the NCBI BLAST program, an open-access DNA sequence database, to confirm the accuracy of the trees' identities. Her documentation and laboratory techniques were among the best in her class,” says Madden. “Summer was one of my most promising, determined, and innovative students. Her strengths lie in her abilities to think outside of the box and take things from an idea to completion using problem-solving and hands-on skills.”
Her passion at the intersection of biology and biotechnology expanded even further when she discovered 3D printing classes in Harford’s additive manufacturing program. Summer explains her crossing interests from biology to biotechnology to 3D printing as “organic” – a natural fit for her. She calls it her own discovery path of research. Combining the concept of living organisms and additive manufacturing appealed to her and, while viewing an influential TED Talk about 3D-printing a human organ, Summer was overwhelmed with curiosity. She was inspired and knew she wanted to develop additional skills in the additive manufacturing realm.
Like many college students, Summer worked part-time to pay for her education. As part of Harford’s work-study program, she landed a job with The Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford and Cecil Counties assisting with administrative duties and tutoring young students. While there, she became very close with Susan Ciavolino, then Director of the STEM program for BGC. Through their many conversations, Susan discovered that Summer was considering dropping the 3D printing course she was taking, unable to afford the expensive 3D printer required to complete the course.
Her frustration resonated with Susan and compassion turned to action when Susan realized she could buy the expensive printer for Summer, not only for her coursework but as a learning tool for the youth at the Club. “She worked so hard, with amazing support from her professor to build and then master the printer. Her determination even inspired me! It was a perfect combination—she was able to complete the course and learn a new skill, while our youth received an incredible role model and were introduced to new technology,” says Susan. The BGC students learned all about the printer and its capabilities right along with Summer as she built the machine for her own class.
Keeping the Boys and Girls Club youth engaged, Summer developed lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations that were extremely well received. “Her patience with our youth and her creative, thoughtful approach to teaching them was so helpful to our work in Edgewood. Also, being a woman in STEM meant that the young girls at the Club had someone to emulate and inspire them.”
Summer’s diligent work ethic continued and while at Harford she immersed herself in Biology Club and presented undergraduate research projects at STEM events, including Harford’s Imagination Fair as well as an award winning project for STEM Day 2018.
Based on her experience with 3D printing, she earned a coveted position in a newly developed summer internship program at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, commonly referred to as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground in their Army Educational Outreach Program and College Qualified Leaders (CQL) Program. While there, she utilized her problem-solving and 3D printing skills to develop dry style electroencephalogram electrodes for real-world neuroimaging in combat situations. This required cycles of creating, testing, and improving prototypes. She demonstrated perseverance and the ability to overcome setbacks, including changes to the materials and specifications throughout the project.
With this incredible opportunity, Summer’s passion for the field exploded. With biology, biotechnology and 3D printing experience now under her belt, her interests morphed to the next big thing – 3D bioprinting. This form of three dimensional bioprinting is the utilization of 3D printing-like techniques to combine cells, growth factors, and biomaterials to fabricate biomedical parts that maximally imitate natural tissue characteristics.
Summer knew this would be her future focus. After proving herself during her internship, she was offered an incredible and unique full-time position at Aberdeen Proving Ground under Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) as a Journeyman Fellow – a Research Fellow – a position she still holds today with the DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory. Working in a state-of-the-art Army lab, alongside colleagues with PhDs, developing prototypes is something Summer had only dreamed of doing.
She’s extremely proud of her current work developing artificial, anatomical 3-D printed skulls for a phantom head that will ultimately be a vital and universal validation device for the field of neuroscience. Intimidated at first, Summer said, “It drove me to push myself outside my comfort zone to keep improving. Even today, what I’m researching and developing is unique – I’m at the ground level of development and it can only get better from here.”
Her supervisor and mentor, Dr. Dave Hairston, neuroscientist with the DEVCOM ARL, saw the potential in Summer early on.
“We often have student interns who come in from four-year programs who have very little real-world prior experience, or any sense of what they really want to do,” said Hairston. “Ms. Bottomley has been a great asset to our team because of her diverse background and interest in a field that is complementary to our lab work. Our team has learned as much from having her with us as I'm sure she as has as a research fellow.
She’s truly thankful for her time at Harford. Because of the many opportunities she was given and the College’s broad range of classes to explore, she is thriving in a field she loves. After her AS in Biology, Summer went on to earn a Professional Certificate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Additive Manufacturing for Innovative Design and Production.
Summer credits her many mentors for helping her along the way, including Assistant Professor Jackie Madden and David Antol, Coordinator for Applied Technology Programs in Harford’s Additive Manufacturing program. She’s currently seeking to further her education in biomedical engineering with a track in biomaterials and tissue engineering, specifically for 3D bio-printing. Because the field is new and narrow, her search for the right college or university is a daunting task.
Summer’s ultimate goal for her career lies in the bioprinting and medical fields. She hopes to one day develop groundbreaking techniques that will someday help critically ill patients. “I would recommend Harford if someone else was in a similar situation – interested in a certain degree but not sure how to start their journey,” says Summer. “I was truly surprised at what I was able to accomplish outside of the classroom as well. There’s a certain reputation when it comes to community colleges that they are underrated, but Harford is expanding its available opportunities to its students. Try your best every day to show up and put effort into what you’re doing because you never know what you will take away from the experience.”
Alumna Success Story, Summer Bottomley
"Try your best every day to show up and put effort into what you’re doing because you never know what you will take away from the experience.” ~Summer Bottomley
- Presented DNA Barcoding poster at MD Collegiate STEM Conference
- STEM volunteer at local Boys & Girls Club
- Research Fellow at DEVCOM Army Research Lab