On May 8, 2010, McMurry held its spring commencement in Kimbrell Arena. Among the 200+ graduates on this day was the FIRST graduate of the Biomedical Science Program. Just two years old, the program has become a landing site for some students who have either changed from other majors or have transferred in from other colleges and found the collection of courses previously taken match best with the BIMS curriculum. Today’s graduate began her college career elsewhere but found her home in our BIMS program.
Amanda Miller was raised in Merkel, TX, just a short drive from Abilene. However, the road taken that would eventually lead to her McMurry degree took her tthrough Orlando FL to Belton TX to Lubbock TX before returning her to Taylor County. She spent a year as Cinderella at Disneyworld, began her college career at the University of Mary Hardin Baylor, continued it at Lubbock Christian University, and arrived in my office for advising during the summer of 2008 shortly after the BIMS program received faculty approval. Looking at the collection of courses taken, considering how we might maximize their “fit” with our degree plans, and discussing where she wanted her life to go, we found a great opportunity for her in BIMS. She has taken flight in the program, becoming Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca’s “go-to” student for help in preparing and delivering courses in molecular biology and genetics. Her plans? To give back by serving the HIV-infected people of Africa as a member of the Peace Corps. More evidence that a McMurry education is more about skills and knowledge – values and service are learned in extra measure. We wish you well, Amanda. Godspeed.
One of the key elements of the BIMS program and its approach to giving students an experience-rich education was the intent to have all students complete a capstone experience. We felt many students would opt for on-campus projects with faculty but that some would take advantage of opportunities with summer research programs and biotech companies to apply their skills and knowledge in different settings. With the resources of the TTU School of Pharmacy’s graduate program in Abilene and biotech firms like Receptor Logic settling in here, it was only a matter of time before a student would complete their capstone work at one of those two venues. However, with a program only two years old, we felt it would be at least another year before this happened. Biology major Gina Ortiz surprised us all by choosing a BIMS capstone experience and working with TTU School of Pharmacy scientists this spring. She thereby becomes the first BIMS capstone student, and the first to complete the work in collaboration with an outside agency.
Ortiz, a Nevada resident, is headed for a career in medicine or biomedical research and used this experience to further hone in a direction to follow once she graduates this May – a year early. Her work was done at the School of Pharmacy in the lab of Dr. Jon Weidanz with direct supervision from his doctoral student Bhavna Verma. Her project was entitled “Biodistribution of RL4B TCRm antibody in mice models”. In her work, Gina became proficient in conducting enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) to screen whether therapeutic T-cell receptor mimics (TCR-m) used for fighting cancer tumors might target and bind healthy mouse tissues. Such information would be valuable in completing an overall picture of how TCR-mimics impact the biology of a patient when used in treatment.
Gina explained her research on Friday, April 30th before a group of students and faculty. Among them was McMurry’s president, Dr. John Russell, who was impressed by the quality of work and polish of her presentation. On behalf of all in BIMS, congratulations Gina on a job well done!
On Sunday, April 25th, McMurry’s academic program honored its stars during the annual Academic Awards luncheon. The following students were recognized for their academic achievement in the BIMS program:
Outstanding Freshman: Oluwatoyosi Adewunmi
Outstanding Sophomores: Elise Hager and Krissy Cobb
Outstanding Junior: Jonathan Urbanczyk
Outstanding Senior: Lauren Bump (pictured at left)
Danny Cooley Award for the Outstanding BIMS Student: Lauren Bump
This is the first year for the Danny Cooley Award, established to honor the memory of McMurry graduate James Danny Cooley. Danny was a Viet Nam veteran and Abilene firefighter approaching retirement when he returned to McMurry to complete his bachelor’s degree. Modest and humble, no one would have guessed he had been a hero in both of his prior lives. As a McMurry student, he excelled in math and science and pursued a BS in Natural Sciences degree. But during his junior year, a love for microbiology was birthed that resulted in his consideration, at age 48, of pursuit of a doctorate in Medical Microbiology at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Graduate School of Biomedical Science. His dissertation provided the first definitive proof of the fungal origins for sick building syndrome. He told me that the week his work became public he and mentor Dr. David Straus were contacted by over 200 news agencies from around the world. Later, the CBS show 48 Hours had a special episode featuring Dr. Straus’s lab.
Dr. Danny Cooley graduated from TTUHSC-GSBS and started an environmental testing firm in Corpus Christi. He and wife Sylvia (also one of my students at McMurry) made Corpus Christi their home until he was taken ill and died from multiple myeloma some years later. It is through this award that his memory is honored as a McMurry alumnus, world-changing scientist, and person.