Geneseo Senior Spotlight: Sakura Hamazaki

Portait of Sakura Hamazaki '21 in her graduation regalia.

Sakura Hamazaki '21 (SUNY Geneseo/Keith Walters '11)

She was the recipient of the 2021 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. She founded SUNY Geneseo’s Student-Athlete Mentor (SAM) Program. She’s a GOLD Leader mentor, a women’s swimming and diving athlete, and a scientific researcher.

In her final semester, Sakura Hamazaki ’21, from Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, added yet another notable accomplishment to her already impressive list: working 40 hours a week as a full-time intern at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals in the Albany area while balancing a 14-credit course load.

“I have good time-management skills,” Hamazaki, a biology major minoring in mathematics, says with a laugh. “My number one mission in life is to be useful in the world, so I’m always hungry to learn and do more.”

During an analytical sciences internship for Regeneron in Summer 2020, Hamazaki was set on attending medical school. However, after applying and receiving multiple acceptance letters in the fall, she changed her mind.

“Something just didn’t feel right—I wasn’t excited,” she says. “I thought, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be the person administering medicine, but I could be the person who helps develop it.’”Sakura Hamazaki '21 working in the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals lab

Knowing that her Spring 2021 classes would be virtual, she reapplied to Regeneron and was brought on again, this time as a quality control virology intern. Working in Regeneron’s research and development lab under Steven Davis—her manager whom she describes as an excellent mentor—Hamazaki has primarily concentrated on next-generation sequencing, identifying different viruses based on their unique characteristics.

“It’s been a great experience, and it’s helped confirm that I’m on the right path,” she says. “Every day, I learn a new skill.” 

When she was on campus, Hamazaki cultivated significant relationships with Geneseo classmates, teammates, and professors, including Professor Kazushige Yokoyama and Associate Professor Travis Bailey—with whom she’s held chemistry and biology research assistantships, respectively—and Nick Palumbo, assistant dean of students for leadership and service, with whom she worked to create SAM.

“Geneseo makes it super easy to do research and explore your interests, which students should take advantage of,” she says, adding how a friend at a private research institution couldn’t do research until she was a junior, whereas Hamazaki started as a sophomore. “People here are so kind and invested in the success of others—I knew that if I wanted to do something, I could do it at Geneseo.”

Her most recent Geneseo research project, “Manipulating Cancer Stem Cells: Their Role in Cancer Progression Turned to Therapeutics,” was directly connected to developmental biology work she plans to pursue after graduation as a PhD student at the University of Rochester. It was personal for Hamazaki, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019.

Hamazaki and her parents moved from Japan to the United States when she was in elementary school. She’s the first person in her family to attend college, which she cites as a major factor in her strong work ethic.

“They dropped everything for me, so I want to make sure I make the most out of every chance I get,” she says.

Looking back on her college experience, Hamazaki is thankful for the opportunities she had to cultivate new passions and skills, help others, and enjoy each moment. 

“Attending Geneseo was the biggest blessing for me,” she says. “I’ve been able to appreciate the ride instead of just focusing on the destination.”