Currently: Director of the Molecular Diagnostics Lab, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
Status: Professor, researcher
On Ut Prosim: By the end of March 2020, Finkielstein recognized that there was not a well-organized plan to tackle the pandemic. Health departments lacked infrastructure, personnel, and support for the magnitude of the challenge. Offices in local health districts were sending test samples to laboratories, who returned results seven to 10 days later—too late to prevent infection in family members and others. Controlling the spread by testing and isolating the infected individual took on a level of utmost importance.
“I did not think twice when I realized the situation. I knew I had the technical expertise to address the problem,” Finkielstein said. “At the end of the day, these are all molecules, right? So all that I needed to do was to find a way to detect this. More importantly, there were students, postdocs, techs, colleagues, staff, cadets, and administrators who were willing to help at any level.”
Finkielstein was so confident in her team and its method that she told her health district colleagues, “The one thing I'm going to promise is that you will have results for each sample the same day. … So you will know who is, or isn’t, infected rapidly, and thus, it's up to you to take action.”
Her lab has run more than 225,000 tests for the community, including nursing homes, businesses, schools, and universities. For her efforts, last year, she earned the Ut Prosim Scholar Award—the university’s top honor for faculty.
“It was very gratifying to see all of us helping together with the same goal in mind—to avoid any major outbreak that could turn into a disaster in our region,” she said. “I think we accomplished that. I will cherish the experience of working with this team forever.”
On how Virginia Tech has impacted her: “I’m a person who believes that every scientist has a social responsibility. I think service should be part of being a scientist, so I think the university aligns very well with my beliefs of what science is all about. I think it's great that Ut Prosim is the motto of the university.”
On the importance of service for Virginia Tech’s future: “I believe service keeps us grounded. It reminds us of our ultimate responsibility as scientists in the society where we live. The university doesn’t take its motto lightly and encourages all to be proactive in that space by providing opportunities at all levels to serve. I personally appreciate that.”