In Houston, two Hillsdale students braved the heat and the unknown to pursue their passions. Working among students from the likes of Brown University, University of California Berkeley, and Princeton, seniors Nicholas DeCleene and Caroline Andrews spent the summer conducting research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the No. 1 cancer center in America.
DeCleene and Andrews both worked through the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Decleene participated in the CPRIT CURE Summer Undergraduate Research Program, working under CPRIT program manager Kari Savannah, Ph.D., a 2006 Hillsdale graduate. CPRIT CURE employs undergraduates looking to pursue a Ph.D. or M.D. Andrews participated in the CPRIT Cancer Prevention Research Training Program, working with both undergraduate and graduate students who were interested in any form of cancer-related research.
When searching for an internship, DeCleene sought out cancer-focused research.
“I always have been frustrated when people say, ‘I wish there was something we could do to help,’” DeCleene said. “Obviously with research, you’re not directly helping your sister who has breast cancer, but you are helping future cancer patients. I felt that’s a realm where I could make an impact.”
Andrews went into the summer wanting to pursue a career in genetic counseling. She said that all changed when she went through the program at MD Anderson.
“I’d really like to work with cancer because I just think there’s so much there. It’s something you can do to help that is not being a medical doctor,” Andrews said. “The things that medical doctors say to the patient in the clinic come from the lab. If you don’t have people in the lab discovering new treatments, then you can’t get the information to patients.”
Andrews spent time in a computational biology lab working with software the lab had made to process cancer-related genetic data.
“I wrote a program to basically create fake data sets,” Andrews said. “If we had this person with this genetic data, what would that tell us about their predisposition to getting cancer? Can we look for different clues in their genetics that might help us detect cancer earlier and have better treatment plans for those people?”
DeCleene’s research focused on triple negative breast cancer.
“It’s a specific type of breast cancer that lacks the normal targets that we look for with chemotherapy drugs,” DeCleene said. “It’s the poorest prognosis of the breast cancers because there’s no notable targets. I was looking at certain targets for that cancer and, if we move certain genes, how they affect the growth of the cancer cells.”
Along with experience in the lab, DeCleene and Andrews learned how to thrive in a professional setting.
“You have to be bold,” Andrews said. “We were out there in the field we want to work in, meeting people that may be our collaborators, or bosses, or colleagues someday. You have to put yourself in those situations.”
DeCleene and Andrews credited their ability to be bold to their Hillsdale education.
“The communication skills and the reading and writing skills made all the difference,” Andrews said. “It doesn’t matter how much lab science you do. If you can’t explain this is what I did and this is how I did it, your science is useless.”
Savannah agreed with the students’ assessment.
“Overall, I personally think the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages of attending a smaller liberal arts school like Hillsdale,” Savannah said. “Perhaps I’m partial, but the undergraduate education I received at Hillsdale was excellent and prepared me just as well, and in some cases better than my peers from larger and Ivy League institutions.”
Savannah noted Hillsdale’s alumni network as one of those many advantages.
“I think the alumni connection at Hillsdale is strong,” Savannah said. “Wherever your career and life takes you, there is probably a Hillsdale alumnus who has gone before you and would gladly share their experiences or mentor you.”