Chris Guenard ’12
I Choose Harvard...
Chris Guenard '12
Hometown: Reading, Massachusetts
Concentration: Human Development and Regenerative Biology; secondary: Spanish
In pursuit of his dreams of becoming a doctor, Chris Guenard ’12 not only immersed himself in the world of stem cells in the classroom and top research labs. When he learned he was a bone marrow match for a local cancer patient, he donated his own stem cells. It is this kind of follow-through that characterizes Guenard’s drive at Harvard. Whether raising funds for Phillips Brooks House Association as a runner in last year’s Boston Marathon or working alongside researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, he says: “It’s been an incredible journey.” And one, he says, that would not be possible without financial aid.
Ever since I was little, when someone asked me, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” I said that I wanted to go to Harvard. I always knew I would apply, but I didn’t know what I would do if I got in. When I did, Harvard offered me the most generous financial aid package of any school, including those offering in-state tuition benefits. Suddenly, everything was possible.
What are you studying here?
I am a concentrator in human development and regenerative biology in the Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology. I’ll never forget hearing a lecture by Chad Cowan, assistant professor of stem cell and regenerative biology, when I was a freshman and thinking: “This is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard, and I have to get involved.”
I was in one of the first classes at Harvard to have the opportunity to take this as a concentration, and I can’t say enough about how the faculty have mentored me through the process. Bill Anderson, my concentration adviser and teacher, really took me under his wing and helped guide me and the others to a great three years in the department.
How has financial aid made a difference?
So many of the opportunities I’ve had here have been made possible through financial aid—not only because it helped me get here, but also because of what I’ve been able to do at Harvard. (Chris is a recipient of a Gerald Jordan Family Scholarship). Through a Harvard College Research Program grant, I worked in a Massachusetts General Hospital lab that researches Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases the summer of my freshman year. After my sophomore year, I was able to work in a research hospital in Madrid through the Weissman International Internship Program.
What has been one of your most memorable experiences?
A few of my family members have had cancer, so I’ve been involved with the Harvard Cancer Society since my freshman year. I’ve helped organize fundraising events like Hoops Against Cancer and a lecture series, for which I invited my favorite professor, David Scadden. He gave such an inspiring talk about stem cell transplantation and the importance of the National Bone Marrow Registry that I knew I had to do something.
I organized a drive with my classmate Chris Ding '12 in conjunction with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. I got my cheek swabbed, along with other volunteers, and then forgot about it for a bit. Then I got a call that I was a match for a 20-year-old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I couldn’t believe it, but knew I needed to step up.
What was it like donating your stem cells?
You have to undergo a series of tests, and when all is cleared, you need to get injections to stimulate the production of stem cells. You have to do it for five days before they can harvest them. It wasn’t painful, but more like having the flu for a while. I was going to film the process and show that it wasn’t a big deal—but I ended up fainting while giving myself the first shot, so I decided that it wasn’t the best promotion of why you should do this.
It was a life-changing experience, and I’m so glad I did it.
What will you do after you graduate?
I am going to work as a life-sciences health-care consultant for a company in Newton.
There’s been a lot of research about stem cells, but people haven’t spent as much time at the intersection between science and business. We understand the science better, but we need to be better advocates for patients. I ultimately want to enroll in a joint MD/MBA program, hopefully at Harvard or a similar program, and I thought this was an ideal way to get some experience before doing that.