Crystal Penaloza

Crystal Penaloza, Student Radiation Therapy Program
“It’s a very rewarding profession (radiation therapy) that I’m sure I will be in for a very long time.”

Radiation Therapy
First-Year Student, 2011-12

Getting Started

Crystal was born and raised in Dallas and attended the Dallas Independent School District's Health Professions Magnet High School at Townview Magnet Center. She became certified as an emergency medical technician as a senior in high school. So, she says, "Going into college, I always knew that I wanted to be in the health professions."

Gig 'Em, Don't Hook 'Em

Crystal, who is the first in her family to go to college, says the family has always been very pro-University of Texas. But pre-game festivities in Dallas' West End before a Texas A&M Cotton Bowl appearance convinced her to go to College Station.

"The school spirit," she says, "that's what made me want to go there in the first place." At A&M, she was originally on the pre-med track and earned a Bachelor of Arts in chemistry, which provided a solid foundation for her eventual career path.

Fast Start

In the first semester, Crystal and her classmates took a medical imaging class and gained early exposure to the field by interviewing physicians, medical dosimetrists, radiation oncologists, and medical physicists. In the first week of her second semester, she was already in clinics.

"You see it right away," she says. "All the aspects of the profession we learned about in the classroom definitely correlate in the clinic, and I enjoy that." She also appreciates the amount of one-on-one time with the faculty and small class size. "We can definitely ask them questions and they are always readily available to help us with anything we need."

Change of Plans

Crystal, who is bilingual and can translate for patients in need, was drawn to study oncology; when she was younger, her grandmother returned to Mexico, where she lost her own battle with cancer. So when Crystal changed her original plan to pursue an M.D. degree, she quickly focused her attention on radiation oncology.

"Usually when you graduate from college with a science degree, you work in a lab for a couple of years at first. Instead, I researched oncology's different professions, and that's where I found radiation therapy. It's a profession that has the best of both worlds: there's a technical part to it, and I was a science major, so I knew I wanted that. But you also get that patient care aspect, which I think is great."

High Achiever

Crystal recently received the Schermerhorn Scholarship, named for Dr. John Schermerhorn, the Allied Health Dean from 1971-86. Three School of Health Professions students are so recognized by the school annually, for their academic excellence, leadership, and volunteer work.

This past summer, Crystal was also selected from all radiologic sciences students in the country to be one of six students to attend the 2011 American Society of Radiologic Technologists Educational Symposium in Albuquerque as student interns.

Looking into the "Crystal" Ball

After graduation, Crystal wants to work as a radiation therapist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for a few years, but is keeping her options open and may eventually prepare to become a radiation oncologist. Either way, she sees herself staying in the field for a long time.