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Member Spotlight: Cathleen Godzik

Tell me how you first got involved with the Caltech Associates and why supporting Caltech is important to you.

I have had a love of science and scientific research since I was a child. I didn't originally plan to become an orthopedic surgeon, I just had a passion to figure out how things work. I grew up on a small lake in Massachusetts, and during the summers I would raise caterpillars and wait until they would turn into monarch butterflies. I was fascinated and wanted to understand how this cycle worked. My curiosity and love of science led me to medical school, and eventually to Caltech.

One of my anesthesiologist friends, Dr. Lucy Arcinue, recommended that I learn about Caltech through a group in which she was a member. She told me about the events and lectures and encouraged me to join. I have been a member since.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Caltech Associates?

Caltech is a superlative institution for high-level, cutting-edge research and innovation. I came from a small school, like Caltech, where a cross-discipline research environment creates excellent synergy and contributes to creative intellectualism. Caltech has great outreach with other medical colleges, such as the MD/PhD programs with UCLA and USC. I have had the pleasure of interacting with Mark Davis (Caltech's Warren and Katharine Schlinger Professor of Chemical Engineering) through these programs, and these partnerships open a wonderful interface between clinicians and lab scientists that creates a shared dialogue to improve results and provide new and different perspectives.

The Caltech Associates is a wonderful gateway into the Institute and generates great collaborations with community organizations, such as The Huntington. I love attending the many diverse lectures, events, and travel opportunities. Being a member also provides you with the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with a great group of people with different backgrounds, both Associates members and faculty. Associates members are a wonderful group to share experiences with, especially in the travel program. I also became president of the Associates in 2005 and found it to be an enriching opportunity.

Outside of your involvement serving on the board and as a past president of the Associates, what do you do?

I have always been curious about understanding how things work and excelled in science. With encouragement from great parents who valued education and provided me with an environment to learn, and after reading the truly thrilling Scientific American article on Watson and Crick's discovery of DNA (I still have the original copy!), I went on to study biology and was one of the first women to matriculate from my college. After experiencing summer research, receiving a fellowship to study immunology at Rockefeller, and publishing in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, I then went on to medical school.

I pursued orthopedic surgery, a field that very few women were working in at the time, and found it to be fascinating and challenging. I moved out to California for a hand surgery fellowship and was then offered to stay on as a full partner. I was responsible for teaching fellows and became a clinical professor at USC Orthopaedics. I also led an international children's program at a clinic at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. For 17 years, I have also provided pro bono clinical work for children with congenital hand deformities and have found this to be extremely rewarding.

What might we be surprised to know about you?

I serve as the hand and upper-extremity specialist and consultant for the Los Angeles Zoo. I have treated apes and monkeys in the past for various hand and arm problems.

Do you have a favorite Caltech memory/story/moment?

The Caltech Associates travel program is a unique jewel of the organization. Members get the opportunity to travel with Caltech professors who provide a breadth of information, as well as insights and expertise into their field of research, that is truly fascinating. The trips provide special access to sights that are not normally open to the public. One of my favorite memories was during a trip to Florence, Italy, when we were led on a unique tour of the private Vasari Corridor. As a tourist, you feel like you are in a chapter of Alice in Wonderland as you enter the small, unmarked door that leads to a long passageway—one kilometer in length, to be precise—filled with an incredible collection of beautiful paintings. The elevated passage connects the Palazzo Vecchio to the newer Palazzo Pitti across the Arno River. Built by the Medici in the 1650s so they could move freely and safely from their home to the government headquarters, and to observe the people in the streets below, the Vasari Corridor was a thrilling place to visit with the Associates.

Closing sentiments?

I am excited to be returning to school to get my PhD in molecular biology and will transition back this year. I have to figure out how those butterflies happen! With continued exposure to different people at Caltech and the Associates, I want to pursue this advanced degree and continue to ask questions and search for new medical answers.

Cathleen Godzik

Name: Cathleen Godzik
Member Since: 1993
Membership Level: President's Circle
Chapter: Southern California
Job Title: Orthopedic hand surgeon