By the time she turned 32, Chanel Nakanishi earned more degrees than most people do in a lifetime including Bachelor of Arts degrees in studio art, art history, philosophy, logic and science and a Bachelor of Science degree in biological science. But, she's not done. This spring Nakanishi plans to receive her most recent degree, a Master of Public Health in epidemiology, from San Diego State University.

That degree will help further her work as Reno Tissue Services Manager for Sierra Donor Services, the nonprofit, organ, eye and tissue transplant donor network serving nearly four million people in Nevada and California.

"My education enhances my ability to contribute to the donation community," says Nakanishi, who is an active member of the American Association of Tissue Banks and the Eye Bank Association of America. "The idea of being able to better serve the donation community through my education is my fuel to grow professionally and intellectually."

Q. You started college at the University of California, Davis at age 13, when most of your friends were in high school. What motivated you? Was it hard to be a young student and relate to older students on campus?

I have always had a gift for art, and when I was 11 my art teacher advised my parents to place me in challenging environments to grow as an artist. I was removed from children's art classes and placed into a college level art class. A few years later, I applied that same philosophy to all of my academics — and that is how my early college career began. I learned at a young age that I had no barriers to my education and I fully took advantage of that. I was so consumed with the delight of learning that I didn't notice the age difference between myself and my peers.

Q. You completed your first two degrees in art history and studio art, at age 17, then went on to earn two additional degrees — and never stopped pursuing education. Is there another degree you are already envisioning completing?

I would love to explore the science of tissue banking in the field of epidemiology on a more rigorous level. Tissue banking surveillance, infection control, study design, data analysis, reporting and regulation can all be further developed to advance donation and transplantation efforts as the field of tissue donation advances. To best serve this need, obtaining my Ph.D. in Epidemiology is my next degree of interest.

Q. Why is learning so important to you?

I have always had a natural curiosity for almost everything. Learning, new ideas, or anything that challenges how I see the world is what I love. Learning has also been a great way to become involved in a community that I care about and make a positive difference in the process. I hope to apply that love of learning, and apply what I discover to save and enhance even more lives in our Reno community.

Q. Which degree or degrees were your favorites and how do you see them all tying together?

I have enjoyed the process of obtaining all of my degrees. My favorite part of the process was the questions and ideas between degrees — the questions that brought me from where I was to a new way of thinking. Each degree was a shift in philosophy that challenged the ideas of the last degree. Sometimes I wonder if I would ever stop at some point, but I think I will always explore the limits of what I know, and then reach beyond that for something new.

Q. How has your education enhanced what you do at Sierra Donor Services?

My education has always complemented my professional endeavors. Even my art education has assisted me in medical illustration — useful in displaying new surgical recovery techniques. I am most excited about what is on the horizon as the fields of epidemiology and tissue banking interface. Bringing the science of epidemiology to tissue banking will help promote best practices and the sharing of knowledge, which will ultimately result in higher quality, safer tissue transplants and will further the mission of donation. This ultimately means more lives saved and enhanced by the Gift of Life.

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