Tiffany Tran, who will be a senior at Piner High School in the fall, is amazed at what human skin can do.

During a semester-long internship in podiatrist Dr. Walter D'Costa's office last spring, Tran was first repulsed by what she saw in patients' ulcers and flesh wounds, then fascinated.

"The first couple of weeks it was pretty gruesome," she said. "After awhile, it was pretty cool."

"It was incredible," she said of shadowing a doctor for two hours every week and getting a sense of treatments, cures and care.

Tran, who last spring completed Piner's Health and Science Investigation Pathway, was named the 2010-2011 Outstanding Career Technical Education Student of the Year in the medical field from the Sonoma County Office of Education.

"She's very dedicated and thorough," said Piner's Judy Barcelon, who taught Tran in AP Biology and is an instructor in Piner's Health and Science Investigation Pathway.

"What makes her unique is she puts this creative edge on some of her projects," Barcelon said. "Her PowerPoints are flashy but not over the top. She spends time to make it a quality project that makes it interesting to read."

Tran has a cumulative grade point average of 4.34 at Piner and hopes to parlay that into acceptance at either UC Davis or UCLA. She will be the first in her family to attend college.

Tran has helped established the Health Occupations Students of America chapter on campus, is secretary of Key Club and vice president of the California Scholarship Federation at Piner.

Tran credits the coursework offered through Piner's pathway program for spurring her interest in medicine.

"That has opened so many doors for me. I cannot praise it enough," she said.

Barcelon expects Tran to shine as a senior at Piner and beyond.

"She is kind of rising to the top a little bit," Barcelon said. "People are starting to see what she is all about."

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at She can be reached at 526-8671 or