No matter what your major is, real-world experience will help you in your future career.
For pre-med student Hunter Huff Towle '17, this experience came in a lab in Sioux Falls, S.D. Studying type 1 diabetes and using knowledge he gained in the classroom at Concordia, he learned valuable lessons to apply to not only his major but to his career as a future physician.
Why did you choose Concordia?
I began studying the violin when I was 5 years old. While I never considered pursuing violin as a future career path, it has long been an important part of my life and finding a college where I could continue studying violin was a necessity for me. When I was completing high school, I was also confident that I wanted to study science and had an interest in a future career path as a physician. In the end, I was looking for a college experience where I could play my violin at a high level, both individually and in an orchestra, while ultimately concentrating on a major in the sciences with the ultimate goal of medical school.
Now, four years later, I couldn’t be happier with the instruction I’ve received on my violin and in the classroom. Concordia has truly offered the greatest opportunity to play an instrument I love while pursuing the subject that will lead to a fulfilling career.
What stands out about the pre-med program at Concordia?
I’ve been impressed by the individual attention that I’ve received and the strong connections Concordia has with medical schools across the nation. From what I’ve learned in conversations with pre-med students at other institutions, the personal relationships and individual attention that each pre-med student receives at Concordia is very unique. It’s a great feeling to know that if I ever had a question regarding medical school, whether it be what classes to take or when to take the entrance exam, that my academic advisor and professors in the Health Professions Advisory Committee would quickly and kindly respond to me.
Another aspect of the Concordia pre-med program that has always impressed me is the respect that medical schools have for Concordia students. The committee has years of experience in identifying the most important traits that a person needs to succeed as a physician. It’s exciting to know that if you work hard for four years, possess the passion to become a physician, and have the intellectual capacity to be a physician, that the committee will be there to fully support you in your journey to medical school.
What are your post-college plans?
I will apply for medical school this June, hoping to begin in fall 2018. During my gap year, I would like to work in a hospital setting to gain more experience interacting with patients and to learn from medical professionals.
At this moment, I’m most interested in dermatology and endocrinology. I’ve always had a deep interest in infections of the skin and I would love to one day specialize in unique fungal infections. Endocrinology more recently captured my attention after completing two summers of medical research on type 1 diabetes. I loved learning about the immune system and even had an opportunity to job shadow an incredible pediatric endocrinologist named Dr. Al Nofal. After two days with a backstage pass to watch Dr. Al Nofal in action, I knew, completely, absolutely, that medicine is what I want in a career.
Tell us more about your research on type 1 diabetes at Sanford Research.
For two summers, I conducted research on type 1 diabetes (T1D) in the lab of Dr. Alexei Savinov at Sanford Research in Sioux Falls. Our lab is part of the Sanford Project and is working to identify early presenting biomarkers for T1D as well as novel therapeutic interventions for the disease.
A major issue is the “silent” progression of T1D. That’s why we are actively searching for a reliable, early presenting biomarker, of which none exist. My work concentrated on a possible biomarker called VTCN1. It is a negative co-stimulatory protein, meaning that when the protein binds to receptors on T cells of the human body, the corresponding signal provides a crucial balance between abnormal T cell activation and energy. Our lab has shown that the cleaving of VTCN1 from the surface of antigen presenting cells and the subsequent increased levels of VTCN1 in the blood of T1D patients shows promise as an early presenting biomarker for the disease.
Why is medical research important to you?
Gaining experience in medical research was an incredibly powerful and eye-opening experience for a variety of reasons. First of all, I was the only American in my lab and because of this, I learned about cultures that I’d never even considered and made lifelong friends in the process.
Beyond the cultural experience that I had, I improved drastically in my ability to think critically and problem solve as part of a team. Unlike many experiences I’d had so far in life, the problems we faced every day in the lab had no set solution or guidebook for which to follow. Our actions and decisions moving forward were novel and it was up to our team to collaborate in order to find a solution. I found this uncertainty and trailblazing mentality incredibly exciting and later found my ability to solve complex problems outside of the research lab greatly improved. In the end, I wouldn’t be the scientist or person I am today without the struggles, triumphs, and friendships I experienced while conducting medical research.
Cole Christensen '18 is a business marketing major and member of the Cobber baseball team.