May 11, 2023

Neuroscience Scholar Wins College’s Highest Honor

Gila Winefeld BA ’23, a biochemistry and molecular biology major, received this spring’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest honor. Named for an esteemed professor, the award recognizes a senior whose abilities and commitment have combined to produce work of the highest distinction.

Gila Winefeld BA '23--a neuroscience scholar, dancer, and mental health advocate--won Lewis & Clark's highest honor, ... Gila Winefeld BA ’23—a neuroscience scholar, dancer, and mental health advocate—won Lewis & Clark's highest honor, the Rena Ratte Award.
Credit: Nina Johnson

Gila Winefeld BA ’23 is the winner of this year’s Rena J. Ratte Award, the undergraduate college’s highest academic honor. The award recognizes excellence in scholastic, intellectual, and creative achievements, and is presented during the undergraduate Honors Convocation ceremony preceding commencement in May.

We caught up with Winefeld to learn more about her experiences at Lewis & Clark and her path to the Ratte Award.

Gila Winefeld BA ’23

Palo Alto, California
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Overseas study
Berlin, Germany (fall 2021)

  • Neuroscience researcher in the Weissman Lab
  • Copresident of Lewis & Clark Dance Company
  • Peer tutor in the Writing Center
  • Cofounder and president of Active Minds (mental health advocacy organization, L&C chapter)
  • Volunteer at various medical institutions in the Portland area and with Crisis Text Line

What was your reaction to winning the Rena Ratte Award?

It’s a huge honor to receive the Rena Ratte Award. It’s really a testament to all the amazing people—professors, other mentors, classmates, friends—who have shaped me over the last four years and to the opportunities I’ve had to grow as a student and as a person. I feel incredibly lucky.

Why did you choose to attend L&C?

I knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college, as I’ve always felt like I’ve had interests in disparate areas and do best when I can build meaningful relationships with teachers and peers over time. Among small liberal arts colleges, L&C is unique (and, in my opinion, ideal) in terms of location, situated on the outskirts of a big city and surrounded by nature. I was also fortunate to receive a great scholarship from Lewis & Clark.

What parts of the L&C experience helped shape your path?

Taking organic chemistry as a first-year student convinced me that I wanted to major in biochemistry and molecular biology. I immediately felt both supported and challenged, and like I was satisfying a lot of my long-standing curiosities. I also loved my first-year seminar course with Rob Kugler, Paul S. Wright Professor of Christian Studies. It exposed me to what a college humanities class looked like and made me want to take more history and religious studies classes, both of which I later did. Outside the classroom, I became interested and involved in mental health advocacy. For example I recently coorganized a mental health storytelling event on campus through a club called Active Minds. This was a really gratifying experience and is the kind of work I want to continue dedicating myself to.

Who were your faculty mentors?

My experience at L&C wouldn’t have been what it was without Associate Professor of Biology Tamily Weissman-Unni, my research mentor and advisor for my senior honors thesis. She has a way of thinking and talking about science that always feels exciting, conceptual, and personal. She’s also really involved on campus and always cheered me on in various aspects of my life. Assistant Professor of Biology Sharon Torigoe has also been really instrumental to my growth and is a brilliant instructor. I had her in five (!) classes, and in each one, I learned to think more efficiently, clearly, and creatively.

What do you think makes L&C special?

The ways in which we’re encouraged to become well-rounded people and to learn 2023 Rena Ratte award finalists (left to right):Drew Blauth BA '23, Jack Waite BA '23, Olivia Nicks-Turnley BA '23, ... 2023 Rena Ratte award finalists (left to right):
Drew Blauth BA ’23, Jack Waite BA ’23, Olivia Nicks-Turnley BA ’23, Jillian Jackson BA ’23, Gila Winefeld BA ’23
Credit: Nina Johnson
broadly is really special. Academic interests outside of one’s major and extracurricular activities are seen not as distractions but as meaningful pursuits that make you a more interesting, productive, and happy person. For example, even though I’m not a dance minor, during my senior spring semester I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to a college dance conference in Utah to present my choreography. Both Susan Davis, program head of dance, and my other professors encouraged me with this.

What are your future plans?

I’ll be spending some time with family in California before moving to Maryland in July to take part in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Postbaccalaureate Research Training Award program. Specifically, I’ll be joining a lab in the National Institute of Mental Health that studies the organization and function of neuronal circuits in mice using cutting-edge two-photon imaging, optogenetic, surgical, and computational techniques. Long term, I want to become a physician; I’ll be applying to medical schools in the coming year.

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology