“My path has been kind of zig-zaggy,” admits Zack Bango. Since graduating from OSU with a degree in biochemistry & biophysics, Bango has been in the Peace Corps, worked in a malaria research laboratory in Botswana and is now working on the front lines of COVID-19 testing and treatment in Los Angeles County, California.
Not your typical student
His whirlwind adventure started before he stepped foot on OSU’s campus. During new student orientation, called START, the summer before he started college, Bango met Kari Van Zee, senior instructor and lead advisor for the biochemistry & biophysics department.
“Kari was the first person I ever met at OSU,” Bango recalls. “The moment I walked in the door at START, we started talking, and within ten minutes, she had introduced me to Dr. Michael Freitag’s lab technician, Lanelle Connolly. I was working in Dr. Freitag’s lab before I even started classes, which was amazing. That was exactly what I needed,” said Bango.
Bango admits that he was never the typical OSU student. He started attending Rogue Community College near his hometown in southern Oregon at 13. “I kind of circumnavigated high school because of that,” he said. He earned enough college credits that he was able to complete his undergraduate degree in just three years.
He chose to attend Oregon State specifically for the biochemistry & biophysics program and got experience in Frietag’s lab researching molecular biology. “At first I thought I wanted to go into epigenetics research,” he said, and “that’s what I got to do at OSU.”
He was able to contribute to some primary publications and presented his research at conferences. This experience improved his research and communications skills, and also taught him that epigenetics was not the field that most interested him. Instead, he decided to pursue a career studying infectious diseases, or diseases of poverty. He worked as a medical scribe for a doctor with the Corvallis Clinic who had previously worked in Africa; that doctor encouraged Bango to pursue this new interest.