Architect of Change: Sonia Maciejewski ’06

In times of uncertainty and confusion, it is important to recognize those who are working intently for those who are suffering. OLP alumna and scientist Sonia Maciejewski ’06 is one of many incredible people targeting the COVID-19 pandemic head-on. Maciejewski is a scientist who specializes in developing clinical vaccines for infectious diseases; such as the Zika virus, seasonal influenza, and the Ebola virus. Throughout her years of experience, she has shown to be a true Architect of Change with her commitment to improving the daily lives of the human race and changing the world as we know it. Maciejewski received her Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology at San Diego State University and later pursued her Ph.D. in Biomedical Science at the University of California, Irvine. Currently, Maciejewski works with the company Novavax to combat several diseases that are most common and where she now focuses on a vaccine for COVID-19.

Architect of Change team member, Isabella Knapp ’20, was able to ask Dr. Sonia Maciejewski ’06 some questions to learn more about her career, her purpose within the STEAM field, and how she inspires other young women to find what they are passionate about. 

As a young child, Maciejewski recalls her interest in science through the different science kits you would buy in the toy aisle or participating in the science club after school. At OLP, she thoroughly enjoyed the biology and chemistry classes. But, it wasn’t until college where she knew that she belonged in the science field. Maciejewski says, “It wasn’t until my sophomore year at San Diego State University during my general biology class that I was inspired by my professor, Dr. Robert Pozos, to pursue science as a career. I was encouraged by him during one of his office hours to apply for the university’s undergraduate summer research program after seeking advice on how to pursue a career in science. After my first summer doing research in an analytical chemistry laboratory, I was sure that I wanted to become a scientist and make a difference in the medical field.” From there, she pursued a Ph.D. at the University of California, Irvine in Biomedical Science. Maciejewski said that through her education she “discovered my passion for emerging viruses and making a product to help prevent or cure viral infections.” 

Maciejewski now works for the company Novavax, “a biotechnology company that uses a novel recombinant nanoparticle vaccine platform to target infectious diseases.” When asked if working on the COVID-19 vaccine is different than her regular workload, she claims, “Although I continue to work on my other projects within Novavax, my focus has primarily been on the development of the COVID-19 vaccine during this pandemic. The rapid response Novavax has towards the development of this vaccine has led to our team to work at a much quicker pace and use our knowledge from our previous responses to emerging diseases to make critical decisions. I am proud that Novavax has selected a vaccine candidate to move forward for our human clinical trials in such a short amount of time. It has been extremely rewarding seeing the development of a vaccine that could potentially help so many people during this pandemic.” 

In order to stay fresh with her career, Maciejewski believes that “it is important to keep up-to-date with the newest scientific findings,” by “reading research articles published in peer-reviewed scientific journals” and “attending scientific conferences every year that allow me to learn about some of the most novel findings within my field.” One thing Maciejewski shares with us is something she loves about science, “It’s unpredictable! I remember one of my mentors used to tell me it’s called ‘research’ because you always have to be ‘re-searching’ for the answer, which can sometimes be frustrating. Experiments in the lab don’t always work the way you want them to. In the end though, the facts are the facts and you can’t change the science. Some of the best moments in my career have been the times when you think you know what the result is going to be but you end up discovering something much more fascinating.” Maciejewski is someone that will always look on the positive side of things, even when certain elements may seem out of place. 

Looking toward the future, when asked what she wants to achieve within her study, Maciejewski explains, “I would love to be involved in the discovery and licensing of products that prevent infectious diseases. To be able to make a difference in peoples’ lives would be the greatest scientific contribution that I could make.” 

Coming from an all-girls school, Maciejewski offers words of advice for other young women who want to pursue a career in the STEAM field. She says the best way is to “Network! Be open to new opportunities, even if they are out of your comfort zone. Sometimes the smallest interactions can open doors for you that you never knew existed. Exploring these opportunities can lead to learning what you are passionate about.” Whatever we put our mind to, we are capable of. Dr. Maciejewski is one of the many influential women in science, who truly cares for the safety of others and wants to change the world for the better–and to top it all off, she is our OLP sister!