As a student, Sarah Ghali '20 (right) worked on a research project exploring alternative testing methods for use in arson investigations.
As a student, Sarah Ghali '20 (right) worked on a research project exploring alternative testing methods for use in arson investigations.

When Sandra Ghali ’19 applied for a lab position at GENETWORx, a Glen Allen company that processes thousands of Covid-19 tests daily, she left a few people shaking their heads.

“Didn’t I already interview you?” the recruiter wanted to know.

And the head of the lab did a double take at her in-person interview. “I thought you looked familiar,” he told her after Sandra explained that her sister, 2020 Longwood graduate Sarah Ghali, had just been through the same interview process.

Both young women—Sarah, a chemistry graduate, and Sandra, a biology graduate—were offered jobs as medical technologists in the GENETWORx lab, and they aren’t the only Longwood alums working there. Sandra, who in October was promoted to senior medical technologist, knows of at least six other Longwood graduates who are employed at GENETWORx.

All the lab experience I got at Longwood definitely helped me—showing us all the correct techniques, how to get the best quality data, being safe and sterile.

Josh Walker '20 Tweet This

Sarah can take a little of the credit for that. When she found out about the GENETWORx opportunity, she shared the news with her sister and several other Longwood alums, including Josh Walker, a 2020 chemistry graduate who also was hired as a medical technologist.

Walker and the Ghali sisters are relying on experience they gained in Longwood’s laboratories in their new jobs, which involve handling various aspects of processing PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 tests. Samples that come into GENETWORx go through multiple steps to extract DNA, purify the DNA and then analyze the results to determine if the test is positive or negative. The three technologists estimate that GENETWORx processes an average of 30,000 tests each day.

L-R: Sarah Ghali '20, Sandra Ghali ’19 and Josh Walker '20
L-R: Sarah Ghali '20, Sandra Ghali ’19 and Josh Walker '20

Sarah Ghali, who participated in Longwood’s PRISM summer research program when she was a student, said she landed the job because of the education and experience she got at Longwood.

“My degree and my experience in a laboratory—those were the only things that mattered,” she said. “In the labs at Longwood, you had to be careful and conscious of what you were doing at every step. You could see the implications of doing something wrong. If you contaminate the sample, that completely changes the results.”

Walker, who also participated in PRISM, agreed that Longwood provided excellent preparation.

“All the lab experience I got at Longwood definitely helped me—showing us all the correct techniques, how to get the best quality data, being safe and sterile,” he said. “One of the first questions they asked me in the interview was to describe my experience with research. I talked about the work I did with Dr. Benjamin Topham on single molecule electronics.”

Sandra Ghali said what she learned from biology professor Dr. Sujan Henkanaththegedara was instrumental in getting the job at GENETWORx.

“He was one of the ones who really encouraged me to not only analyze the data properly but also to gather the data properly. He taught me the way to be confident in your results is to be confident of your work in every step of the process.”

In addition to the satisfaction of having a job in their field, the three say their work at GENETWORx makes them feel good about helping people coping with the pandemic.

“These test results literally tell people, ‘I can see my family today. I can see my grandma. I can continue working at my job,” said Sarah Ghali. “It’s a result that can impact their life, their livelihood and their future.”

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