From Lancaster County to Georgetown University

Editors Note: Elizabeth was accepted into Georgetown University, and starts her freshman year this fall. She chose to write her college essay on her experience at the Clinic, and we wanted to share this with you as part of her wonderful Rumspringa blog. Congratulations, Elizabeth! 


As I hold the test tube to the light, I see it: a tiny opaque ribbon, the size of a fingernail. Just an hour ago, this had been my blood. After pipetting chemical after chemical, pouring, mixing, shaking, and filtering, I now had my “little ribbon,” my DNA, which holds all the information of who I am and the potential for who I will be. At this moment, the spiral of my life is in my hands. And I know I am unique.

I came here to the backcountry of Strasburg, Pennsylvania to understand this individuality, not in a chemical sense, but rather in a communal one. Here lies the Clinic for Special Children, a pediatric practice serving the Amish and Mennonites. Erected, literally, in the middle of a cornfield, the Clinic is unique in using high-tech tools to discover the roots of genetic illnesses in patients who drive horses and buggies. I journeyed to the Clinic to get a taste of how special these children really are, whereupon I put myself in their shoes, testing my own DNA for the same genetic illnesses that they might have.

In the beginning, this opportunity seemed like a long shot. The Clinic has an internship program, however, it is limited to undergraduates and medical students. As a rising twelfth grader, I loved science and children. I wanted to experience what it is like to help in a medical setting. Thus, I created a plan to launch a social media campaign and drafted a proposal to raise awareness and money for the Clinic’s mission. I would shadow the doctors, work in the lab, meet the families, and soak up anything I could. With that information, I would create a blog, Facebook messages, and Instagram posts. The Clinic staff was intrigued. And there I was in the lab, testing my DNA.

From my “little ribbon,” I learned that I carry the genes for blue eyes, lactose tolerance, and a common mitochondrial mutation. I also discovered that I do not have a severe genetic condition called maple syrup urine disease, thank goodness. In the Clinic, I came to know the importance of cultural understanding and bedside manner, as pediatrician Dr. Kevin Strauss sleuthed and explained serious ailments to white-bonneted and suspender-clad patients. I also ventured out into the community. I ate pizza in the homes of three Amish families, rode in a pony cart along with Amish children, drank milk straight from a cow’s udder, and helped can peaches. DSCF6903

These moments wove together to teach me the values of community and culture in relation to individuality. I come from the “Brookline, Massachusetts bubble,” where high school is a vehicle to jam-pack a resume by volunteering at soup kitchens, tutoring underprivileged children, or organizing bake sales to help African children buy goats. All of this check-marking has become so routine as to be commonplace. I wanted to break that mold.

I arrived hoping that the Clinic could help me step outside the bounds of my environment, which insists on excellence at any cost. The community welcomed me and made me feel more than excellent. I felt special. Now I know that whatever I do with my life, I will carry this feeling with me and, most importantly, create the means to offer it to others. I can say now that I want to foster a career in which I apply scientific knowledge and share it with others, while working with different cultures. Maybe I will incorporate art therapy into a clinical practice, serving minorities, or teach science to foreign students. I cannot predict the particulars, but I do know this: to be unique in Brookline language is to stand out, but to be special in Clinic terms is to join in, becoming one with something much larger – a community that values me for who I am and fits so tight that we achieve excellence together.

Three Top Female Scientists from Franklin & Marshall College

Franklin & Marshall College is one of the Clinic’s closest friends and collaborative institutions. Since 2006, Drs. Puffenberger, Strauss, and Morton have co-taught a capstone course in biology at the college called, “Plain People & Modern Medicine.” The Clinic is also integrally involved in F&M’s second Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant (HHMI), which helps to fund key research projects leading to faster diagnosis and better treatments for our patients.

We believe our shared investment in education and research is crucial for future clinician-scientists, and we have three top female scientists to prove it.


Rebecca Willert (Becky) joined the Clinic’s team in 2012 as our Laboratory Technician after graduating from F&M with a bachelor’s of arts in biology. Becky was one of many talented students who worked in Professor Rob Jinks‘ lab and also took the Clinic’s biology course during her senior year. Because of Becky’s work in the Jinks lab, she is now a published author on our 2012 PLoS One publication. We will greatly miss Becky’s keen skill in the laboratory, but we are glad she is continuing her education at Drexel University’s Physician Assistant Program!

Abigail Benkert (Abby) was our 2013-2014 Avery Fellow. She too took our “Plain People & Modern Medicine” course, and she graduated from F&M in 2013 with a bachelor’s of arts in neuroscience. Like Becky, Abby also developed her scientific rigor by working in the Jinks lab at F&M. Over the last year, Abby has led independent research on a disease called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH). Her work is helping to define new treatment protocols for this disease that will improve the care for many CSC patients. We are also fortunate that Abby has decided to stay at the Clinic as our laboratory technician for one more year prior to medical school.

Nancy Presnick (pictured right) is the latest example of a top female scientist from Franklin & Marshall. DSCF3400Graduating just two months ago with a bachelor’s of arts in neuroscience, Nancy is spending ten weeks at the Clinic. She is the recipient of the Eyler Award for biochemistry, biology, and chemistry from F&M, which has funded her summer research at CSC. She is helping to develop a new test for ACTH, an important hormone in the management of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. Nancy is also helping Dr. Puffenberger with clinical diagnostic testing and genetic sequencing. Not surprising, Nancy is another Jinks lab graduate, and she also took our course during her senior year.

A winning combination – The Jinks Lab, the Clinic’s capstone course, and independent research that helps to improve the lives of children.


We are grateful for our continued partnership with Franklin & Marshall College, and we thank Becky, Abby, and Nancy for their inspiring dedication to our mission! These bright, young minds represent a new generation of clinician-scientists that will propel our work forward for years to come.


The Summer Newsletter is Here

Hot off the presses, it’s our summer newsletter! If you didn’t receive a copy via snail mail, you can download the PDF here. We have included 25th Anniversary highlights, personal stories from our research fellows, a welcome to our new pediatrician, and many other great updates on research and collaborative efforts. The newsletter has kept our friends up to date since the beginning, and we hope you enjoy the latest edition!

Download the PDF here → Summer Newsletter

A New Voice in the Front Office

We are pleased to introduce Yalonda Kosek as the Clinic’s new Medical Receptionist. Yalonda started this April and brings over 5 years of experience to the Clinic’s front office. You will hear her friendly voice whenever you call the Clinic, and she’ll be happy to help with scheduling a visit or connecting you to the rest of the CSC team. Yalonda is also a big help to Erica with day to day clinical operations!

For almost 4 years, Adam Heaps has been a key asset to the Clinic’s laboratory. Adam started as our laboratory technician and was quickly promoted to laboratory scientist as he helped to coordinate much of the day to day clinical and research testing. We are now pleased to share that Adam has taken on even more responsibility as the Clinic’s Administrative Director. Our longtime Executive Director, Caroline Morton, is transitioning her administrative duties to Adam’s capable hands, but Caroline will continue at the Clinic as our co-founder and head writer for the Clinic’s newsletter.

In our 25th anniversary year, we also celebrate a growing, talented, and dedicated team!