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Ash Bechtel ’24 combines science and social work for holistic view of patient care; aims to serve Hispanic community

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Student wears a blue shirts and looks off into the distance while smiling.

Image: PLU Biology major Ash Bechtel poses for their Senior Spotlight portrait, Thursday, May 9, 2024, at PLU. (PLU Photo / Sy Bean)

June 13, 2024
By Nikki McCoy
PLU Marketing & Communications Guest Writer

Ash Bechtel has always wanted to be in healthcare, but she wasn’t sure which direction to take — nursing or medical school. So, Ash counseled with family and academic advisors before deciding to pursue a biology major that would lead her to becoming a doctor. For Ash, this felt like the right fit.

“I’ve always been attracted to the sciences – especially those that have to do with the human body,” she says.

Because Pacific Lutheran University expands learning beyond concentrations, Ash enrolled in biology classes she normally wouldn’t take. She enrolled in Land Management and Conservation Biology, which she says broadened her view.

“It helped me understand that with science and human bodies, nothing is a closed loop,” she recalls. “The way we work with the environment, the world and other organisms affects how we function as humans.”

A holistic worldview has served Ash well. When diagnosed with long COVID her sophomore year, Ash used the experience to frame her capstone project, “Exercise is Medicine.” Because studies of the frequent impacts of exercise on patients with long COVID are few and inconclusive, Ash says she was “grasping just to find primary research articles.” After extensive research, she found a way to discuss specific and individual physiological changes for these patients and has published one of the first secondary research articles on this topic.

Service in Action

This isn’t the only time Ash has overcome challenges and stepped into leadership. She served as ASPLU President during her junior and senior years after serving as Resident Assistant (RA) in the Spanish Wing in Kreidler.

Part of the draw to becoming an RA was that Ash knew she could connect with the Hispanic community in new ways. This wasn’t just about service; it was also about exploring her own identity as a Mexican American and understanding more fully the issues impacting minority students.

This experience launched her into becoming student body president, where she was a champion for change on campus, including providing period products in all public bathrooms and organizing more Spanish-first speaking engagements and spaces.

Study away pulls it all together

Ash’s journey through self-discovery at PLU included a switch in minors. Although she was originally minoring in chemistry, she switched to gender, sexuality, and race studies (GSRS) after the introductory class captured her attention.

“I was able to look at the world in new ways, and it really fascinated me,” says Ash. “It was definitely a class that really changed the way I look at the world and even myself.”

PLU’s GSRS program provided an opportunity for Ash to study abroad in Tobago for a month, allowing her to gain hands-on social work experience. Ash partnered with a program for adolescent mothers that combined daycare and school and taught classes like first aid, reproductive health, and basic science lessons. Recalling when the group made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes, Ash says, “Just seeing the joy on their faces as they saw the explosion – it was really rewarding.”

The experience highlighted the intersection between her biology major and GSRS minor for Ash.

“It was a way to explore individuals and their identities and how they show up in spaces,” she explains. “When I become a physician, I can do so more authentically and can more closely align with patient needs because of these experiences.”

Ash recently completed medical interpretation training and plans to apply for medical school while working as a Spanish-language medical interpreter over the summer. She sees this as the next step in achieving her goals.

“One of my main driving factors in becoming a doctor is to help the Hispanic community and give back,” she says.