Three students from United States service academies have completed biomedical research summer internships at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
OMRF welcomed two students from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, and one from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to its 11th class for the John H. Saxon Service Academy Summer Research Program.
John Saxon III, M.D., a Muskogee physician and OMRF board member since 2000, established the program to honor his father, a West Point graduate who taught for five years at the U.S. Air Force Academy and was a career Air Force pilot before passing away in 1996.
The Saxon program provides service academy students with an opportunity to work side-by-side with OMRF senior scientists.
Chesapeake, Virginia, native Andrew Nixon is a midshipman second class in the 3rd company at the U.S. Naval Academy. Nixon worked in the lab with OMRF scientist Lorin Olson, Ph.D., on gene expression in the development of knee joints. “What we’re looking at can potentially help us devise ways to promote healing or reduce damage in joints by knowing what to target in a clinical setting,” said Nixon.
Nixon, a chemistry major, said the Saxon program provided a unique experience to see how scientists conduct the research that may ultimately end up in a clinical setting.
“This has shown me the backbone of medical science. OMRF is where the research happens that benefits us all,” he said. “It’s been a privilege to be a part of it.”
Stephen Scholl, from Annapolis, is a midshipman second class in the 9th company at the Naval Academy. Scholl worked with OMRF scientist Chris Sansam, Ph.D., studying a specific gene called “TICRR,” which plays a role in cancer.
“In just a short time, I’ve been exposed to many new ways of thinking and I’ve learned a lot from my incredible mentors,” said Scholl, an operations research major. “I plan to go to medical school and eventually join the Navy medical corps. This experience in the research side of medicine has been eye-opening and invaluable.”
Air Force Academy squadron commander Erika Willis of Colorado Springs is pursuing a degree in biology. Willis studied under the guidance of Courtney Griffin, Ph.D., working to observe the expression of proteins in the lungs to better understand the lungs’ susceptibility to inflammatory infections.
“Everything about this experience was great,” said Willis. “It’s not just that it’s an incredible learning experience, but also that everyone here is so willing to help. I’ve dreamed of being a doctor since elementary school, and this one-of-a-kind experience has shown me the foundation of medicine and what I want to do with my life.”
OMRF Vice President of Human Resources Courtney Greenwood said this exposure to real-world medical research is invaluable to the students and adds fresh perspectives to OMRF’s labs.
“While the experience is short, it has long-lasting effects on the students and OMRF,” said Greenwood. “We’re grateful to Dr. Saxon for supporting this unique program.”