International forensics student interns at hospital

Teacher, friends, advisor encourage Villanueva’s work


Photo by Gracey Evans

Clare Villanueva

Written By Kayla Snyder, Co-Copy Desk Chief

From a young age, Clare Rachel Villanueva always knew her future job had something to do with dead bodies.

When she was deciding what to study, a teacher suggested forensics because of her love for science and law.

“I was instantly in love with it, because it’s basically CSI and I love dead bodies,” Villanueva said.

As a junior forensic science student, she is not only progressing towards her goal via an internship, but is set to further explore her major and related double minors.

Villanueva is a Philippines native who moved to the American Samoa when she was six years old with her family. Two years ago, with the pursuit to study forensics and move from home, she packed her bags and headed for Pittsburgh.

Her curious nature has left quite the impression on her professor Edward Strimlan.

“For her little size, she loves to ask questions,” Strimlan said.

Her international advisor, Amanda Avampato, says that Villanueva is an outgoing student who stays heavily involved.

Her roommate, Cassandra Vaglienti, who lives off campus with Villanueva, describes her as a sweet and busy human being.

These three have all helped out Villanueva, who is currently interning at Children’s Hospital of UPMC of Pittsburgh alongside a lab mentor who treats children’s brain tumors.

As well as attending class full-time and completing her internship, she works with the university’s food provider, CulinArt, and is involved in multiple clubs across campus including the Forensics Club, Knitting and Crocheting Club, Criminal Justice and Strong Women, Strong Girls.

Her internship focuses a lot on pediatric cancers and finding cures for them.

Villanueva was searching for an internship that correlated to either her major or her double minors and this one fit perfectly.

“This internship that she got, which is a fascinating subject matter, she got on her own,” Strimlan said. “She wanted to know if she could get an internship on her own. I told her absolutely.”

She tries to help out as much as she can at her internship due to the professional nature of the job. She does cell cultures, reads reports or papers and helps with experiments as she can.

“When I was younger, I used to obsess over shows like ‘1000 Ways To Die,’ ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Bones,’” Villanueva said. “You get to solve mysteries and crime scenes and you basically are a detective and that’s so cool because you find out who did it.”

In August 2015, in the pursuit of finding a school for forensics outside of Hawaii, Villanueva packed her bags and moved from the small island in the Pacific Ocean to attend Point Park.

“At first [moving] was a huge change that I had to majorly adapt to because I come from an island that’s really hot and has no snow whatsoever,” Villanueva said. “The coldest it can go is possibly 80 degrees. When I moved here, the seasons also changed, and with the weather, it was all overwhelming.”

Because she is a forensics major, Villanueva has had Strimlan for four classes. Strimlan said that Villanueva was unlike any of the other students in his class.

“She’s one of the most inquisitive students that I’ve ever come across,” Strimlan said. “She fascinates me with the way that she looks at certain subject matters. She wants to push it, not to hear a certain statement, but understand.”

Villanueva is active within the international student population on campus, attending events and volunteering for orientations.

According to Avampato, Villanueva faced adversity in her first year at the university that most American students don’t deal with until they’re older in life.

“She handled it so well and that’s a lot to be said about not only a person in a younger generation, but also an international student,” Avampato said.

Within the international program, Villanueva met her now-roommate senior English major, Vaglienti.

Vaglienti describes Villanueva as one of the hardest working people she knows. She said that Villanueva wanted to add a triple minor and also graduate early, but decided not to add the extra minor.

“Ironically enough, I’m a procrastinator,” Villanueva said, laughing. “I have free time in between classes to catch up on homework, but sometimes, I’m ahead. When midterms came, I started watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ That definitely affected the whole thing, but balancing time is something I try to do as best as I can.”