The Art and Science of a College Degree
The interdisciplinary journey of Natalia Dobrenko ’20.
November 11, 2019—As a biomedical sciences major, Natalia Dobrenko ’20 might seem an unlikely artist, but she has leveraged Marist’s liberal arts-based approach to education to explore her passion for both art and science. Dobrenko, whose goal is to become a pediatric cardiologist, is determined to let both interests play a role in her life and career.
Dobrenko had the chance to dive headlong into both art and science this past summer by participating in two very different but equally prestigious summer intensives that allowed her to explore her interests in anatomy. Dobrenko, who was born in Bialystok, Poland and lives in Suffern, New York, spent four weeks at Johns Hopkins University’s Summer Anatomy Institute in Baltimore and another four weeks at the Summer Undergraduate Residency at the New York Academy of Art. “I think that art and science are very much intertwined, and I try to bring both together,” she explained.
“Natalia is that very special kind of young person who has intelligence and talent but, most importantly, she has that much-needed element that is so rare—determination,” said Professor of Art Ed Smith.
Smith recounted meeting Dobrenko. “She appeared at my office one day, out of the blue, and wanted to involve herself with art. As a science major with little time for outside activities, she nonetheless made the time. And she continued with that essential defining characteristic—determination—until she had produced a body of work. Her frequent visits to my office made her all the more impressive as she persisted in her work in both areas.”
Associate Professor of Chemistry Jocelyn Nadeau concurred. “Natalia is an incredibly hard-working student with an exceptionally positive attitude,” said Nadeau. “In telling me about last summer, her enthusiasm was wholly palpable, and it was clearly a life-changing experience for her that will guide her future career path.”
Mentors like Smith and Nadeau have been a key part of Dobrenko’s experience at Marist. For his part, Smith was not surprised that his student was accepted into two such exceptional programs. “I’m sure the people at the Academy and Johns Hopkins saw the same thing I did dring my first meeting with Natalia: a rare individual with a sense of purpose, depth, humor, and intelligence who will succeed because of her determination to succeed.”
The Summer Anatomy Institute Program was run by the Department of Functional Anatomy and Evolution within the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “Each day began with a two-hour lecture,” said Dobrenko. “In the lab, we had an opportunity to work with two dissected cadavers, a male and a female, as well as real life plastinations, plastic models, and various anatomy atlases.” Students also had the opportunity to observe surgeries at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Despite the long days (surgery observations would begin as early as 5 am), the program only increased Dobrenko’s motivation to pursue a career in medicine. “This program made me realize what type of environment I want to be surrounded by while attending medical school. The experience of being with such passionate and driven people was an absolute game changer.”
Gross Anatomy Study Informs Art
After the Johns Hopkins program, Dobrenko took a brief break before heading to New York City for the art intensive. “I had never had the opportunity to sculpt before, and I fell in love with sculpture. It was so helpful to take an anatomy class before beginning this. Understanding the major muscles and their functions helped visualize how they behave from an artistic point of view,” she explained. “Knowing bony landmarks is also crucial to accurately and proportionally depicting the human form.”
The Academy coursework also introduced Dobrenko to new techniques such as reductive drawing, which consists of erasing light masses on already darkened paper, rather than drawing in lines and shadows. Another artistic challenge consisted of making a large-scale, life-size drawing.
These summer experiences have shown Dobrenko that there are ways to combine her divergent interests into a successful career. She believes that incorporating art into medicine can improve a doctor’s ability to communicate with both parents and young patients, as well as to help new doctors understand the nature of congenital heart diseases. “In pediatric cardiology, heart issues tend to be genetic. There’s a puzzle to solve. A pediatric cardiologist once told me no two child heart defects are the same; for that reason, doctors often use imagery and pictures when talking to parents. I’d love to incorporate models into how a diagnosis is discussed with a family.”
Ultimately, her goal is to figure out how to achieve “the best hybrid: be a doctor but also pursue creative projects.” With her sense of determination, there’s no doubt she can do it.