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Seniors Nicholas DeCleene (left) and Car­oline Andrews (right) worked under Kari Savannah ‘06 (center) doing summer research. Nicholas DeCleene | Courtesy

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.”