September 20, 2019

Science is in her cells: Milana Bochkur Dratver

Milken Community Schools’ Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology
Going to: Yale University

Milana Bochkur Dratver is still in high school, but already the 18-year-old has worked in a top university research lab, had her work published in a scientific journal and is listed on a patent for material designed to be used in space. 

The 2014 valedictorian at Milken Community Schools’ Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology is passionate about everything and anything to do with science, and it shows. She has excelled in robotics and aerospace competitions as co-captain of her school’s engineering team, the MilkenKnights; conducted research into brain and breast cancers at UCLA; and wowed participants with her knowledge of scientific subjects such as astronomy and environmental science at the annual Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Science Bowl. 

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

Bochkur Dratver’s zeal for scientific learning began in elementary school with a talent for math, she said. That broadened into an interest in science once she reached middle school.

“I’ve always just loved learning,” Bochkur Dratver said. “In middle school, I really liked the application of science. The stuff we were learning could be applied to the real world and my surroundings.” 

By high school, Bochkur Dratver knew she wanted to be involved in stem cell and cancer research. As part of an elective science class at Milken, she got in touch with the Department of Radiation and Oncology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and began working with a mentor there starting in 10th grade. She worked alongside experts with master’s and doctoral degrees, co-authoring a study on the effects of radiation on breast cancer cells that was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology in June 2013.

Bochkur Dratver also researched radiation’s effects on brain cancer cells, discovering that traditional radiation therapy may make certain cells more malignant. For that research, she was named a semifinalist in the 2014 Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious science research competition for high school seniors. 

“I really like medical science. I hope to be a doctor some day, or something in the medical field,” said Bochkur Dratver, who will head to Yale University in the fall. “I like the idea of being able to help people, and cancer research I’m really passionate about because, unfortunately, everybody knows somebody who’s had the disease or has had the disease themselves.”

As a key member of the Milken-Knights, Bochkur Dratver and her team won first place in the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics Competition Los Angeles Regional in 2013, advancing to the world championship in St. Louis. She and four other students also made the finals in the Conrad Foundation’s 2013 Spirit of Innovation Challenge, for which they designed a material to shield astronauts from radiation. Bochkur Dratver is listed on a provisional patent for the product, said Roger Kassebaum, director of the Mitchell Academy of Science and Technology.

“She’s incredible,” Kassebaum said. “Walks on water with small shoes.”