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Senior Story 2021: Biology Major Ventures from Sri Lanka to Pursue Ph.D.
May 28, 2021

Name: Ondrea Sajini Amandhi Mathews

Hometown: Colombo, Sri Lanka

Major: Biology with Molecular Biology Concentration

Notable UD Memories/Achievements: “My greatest achievements at UD are the relationships I take with me. During my time here, I have worked at the information desk, Police Department, fitness center, Athletics Department, UD student newspaper and the Registrar's Office. At each place, I got to immerse and connect with so many others who have been lovingly tied to UD in so many ways. My weeks here have almost always included 20-30 working hours, but I have enjoyed working in this community and contributing, even in the littlest of ways, to the working environment. My greatest achievements are the little things like knowing so many staff and being able to talk with them when I walk through the school; it is perhaps the thing that I will miss the most. While it may not seem like an achievement that goes on my resume, it has added so much to my growth as an individual, and I will take those interpersonal skills with me into my professional life.” 

Future Plans: Continuing on to graduate school at the University of Notre Dame to complete a Ph.D. in the Department of Biological Sciences. 

This is the eighth in a series of 10 stories that will be published to highlight the achievements of some of our seniors in the Class of 2021. 

As a high school student in Sri Lanka, Amandhi Mathews, BS ’21, found UD on the internet. She was drawn to the idea of a “Catholic university for independent thinkers'' and decided to apply, even though she did not know that Dallas is in Texas. Knowing that she wanted to study science, the liberal arts education with an opportunity to read classic literature was an added bonus. Mathews was raised Catholic and was looking for a chance to grow in her faith during college, too. “It was an easy answer when the admission offer came in!,” Mathews said. Before she knew it, she was on her first flight ever, heading to UD. 

In her early teens, Mathews had an interest in studying fashion, but in her high school science classes, she discovered her curiosity about complex biology and her ardor for research. 

“I realized that I had a passion for the scientific process and an appreciation for experimental results that furthered scientific knowledge,” she said. “I wanted to be a part of laboratory research where biology became tangible experimentation. This formed my desire for doctoral study and a career as a research scientist.” 

Mathews is currently working at Signature Biologics as a research intern, and she will continue working there until graduate school begins in August. “I’ve known I would want to pursue graduate studies since freshman orientation. Dr. Cody would attest to this, even though my idea of graduate school at that point may have been a bit on the fairytale side, so it feels surreal to actually be there today,” shared Mathews. “I am passionate about regenerative medicine, and I hope to work in stem cell biology. But of course, I am open to learning and exploring different fields of science before choosing an official thesis lab in graduate school. Additionally, I want to work with the Association for Women in Science at Notre Dame to create and enhance opportunities for women in STEM!” 

A biology major with a concentration in molecular biology, Mathews especially enjoyed Advanced Microbiology, but she also really loved her Literary Tradition II class with adjunct instructor Kenneth Marchetti, MH ’11 MA ’14. In fact, she has saved lectures of Paradise Lost, Books 4 and 6, on her phone! Her deep appreciation for the Core Curriculum at UD is evident as she reflects on her four years. “I know that I will miss the Core texts, the discussions about Dante, Plato and Aquinas. The interdisciplinary approach to education at UD has broadened my horizons, taught me the literary tradition, history, theology and philosophy. I am better prepared, better informed and most importantly, I am taught to lead with love and compassion for the human person, no matter what profession I pursue.” 

Mathews added, “Incredible mentorship and genuine investment in my career and progress as an individual from faculty is something that I am really thankful for.” Associate Professor and Chair of Biology William Cody, Ph.D., approaches science and research in a realistic yet exciting way. His enthusiasm and knowledge have inspired Mathews in her studies. In fact, she credits the entire Biology Department with being instrumental in her journey. 

“There have been so many professors here at UD who have gone above and beyond for me as a student,” said Mathews. “Nevertheless, Dr. Cody will always remain the most incredible and influential mentor I have had. From answering my first email during the summer of 2017, riddled with the awkwardness and ignorance of a 17-year-old from Sri Lanka to all the advice up until my very last email about graduate school was sent, Dr. Cody has been there. I am thankful for his straightforwardness, mentorship and guidance, for the confidence he has instilled in me and the encouragement and support he has given me.” 

Cody said, “From day one Amandhi demonstrated the ability to step outside her comfort zone and be guided by her enthusiasm. Not only was her flight to the University of Dallas her first time on an airplane, it was her first night away from home. Her freshman year she took my Molecular Biology lecture course, which I believe to be one of the hardest courses on campus, out of sheer curiosity, and outperformed seniors who had already been accepted into doctoral programs. She continuously found ways to enrich the lives of her classmates, from serving as a Biology Department tutor to organizing a campus prayer service for Sri-Lankan Easter bombing victims, which included her parents’ church. 

“Amandhi worked multiple jobs on campus, while conducting research as a member of the Stenesen Lab at UD and summer research in the Udagama Lab at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, and the Yang Laboratory at the Harvard University School of Dental Medicine as a participant in the Harvard Stem Cell Institute Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program,” he added. “All of these commitments, and she continued to seek out challenging coursework, which was difficult because she took all of the toughest courses she could find as an underclassman.”

Mathews offered this advice to future students, particularly those who are scientifically inclined: “I feel like I need to say this: As a science student, it is easy to focus only on the science classes at UD, while the Core seems difficult to engage in. I had this attitude my freshman year since I simply did not understand how our Core texts would influence me as an aspiring research scientist. I had barely heard of Plato or Homer when I came here. Today, I am once again picking up the Greek texts, St. Augustine's Confessions and listening to our lecture series on campus in an attempt to grasp anything I may have missed my freshman year. My advice to students after me is to fully embrace the liberal arts. As a science student, you may not meet them again. Let them broaden your thinking and push your boundaries so you start caring and reflecting on the bigger questions in life.”

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Oct 15, 2021

Teresa Merklin, MBA ’05, has worked for Lockheed Martin for nearly two decades. After beginning at the company in software management, she is now a fellow...

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An interfaith dialogue on religious freedom moderated by University of Dallas President Jonathan J. Sanford, Ph.D., and featuring Archbishop Matti Warda of Erbil, Iraq, is now available.

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