Cardinal Cadence Spring/Summer 2013

The David J. Beck Fellowships

David J. Beck Fellow Crissie VandehoefDouble major pursues healing research

A frightening medical diagnosis at age 14 prompted Crissie Vandehoef to veer off course academically for a few years. Eventually, she found her way to Lamar University, where a variety of opportunities have put her on the path toward a future as a biomedical researcher.

Vandehoef, a biology and chemistry major from Port Neches, was selected as one of Lamar University’s two David J. Beck Fellows for 2013. The Beck Fellowship covers all expenses including tuition, fees, books and on-campus room and board for one year, along with up to $10,000 for a summer project. Vandehoef will spend her summer as a research assistant at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) investigating ankylosing spondylitis, the chronic inflammatory disease with which she was diagnosed six years ago.

Vandehoef said she has had trouble finding scientific information on her disease and thought focusing on it as a research interest would be advantageous. “I want to do something to further cures and treatment because I don’t like the treatment options that are available,” she said.

At NIAMS, she will work with Robert Colbert, deputy clinical director and chief of the Pediatric Translational Research Branch. In researching her disease, Vandehoef came across information on Colbert as a top scientist in the field and contacted him to ask about research opportunities. He invited her to work in his lab for the summer and wrote a recommendation for her fellowship application.

This will not be Vandehoef ’s first foray into scientific research. After taking a few basics at Lamar State College-Port Arthur, she transferred to Lamar University in summer 2011 and quickly noticed flyers for LU’s STAIRSTEP program. That fall, she began participating in the program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation to help undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics improve their research and presentation skills.

With her mentor Christopher Martin, associate professor of chemistry, Vandehoef has worked on green chemistry research to redesign organic chemistry labs to improve yields and reduce waste. Since June, she also has been performing computational chemistry research working with researchers in Argentina on computer simulations to calculate the energy required for a variety of reactions. Vandehoef presented that research in April at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society in New Orleans.

“I want to get more into biology research, but I’ve already made the connections in chemistry, and you don’t want to leave a project open ended,” Vandehoef said. “I’ve asked Dr. Colbert to give me a list of procedures I should know. I’ll work with the biology professors at Lamar this spring to get caught up so that when I get to the NIH, I’m starting with something to offer.”

Additionally, Vandehoef serves as vice president of LU’s Student Association of the American Chemical Society and is a member of the American Medical Student Association on campus. She has also tutored through the STARS and STAIRSTEP programs at Lamar.

Vandehoef ’s drive and focus today contrast sharply with her life during her high school years when her diagnosis forced her to give up the competitive sports she enjoyed. “I went through some hard times in high school,” she said. “I ended up going off the deep end for a while, but I think it has helped me grow.”

In applying for highly competitive M.D./Ph.D. programs, Vandehoef expects her research experience and the strong relationships she has built with LU professors to provide a significant advantage. “Getting the Beck Fellowship and the opportunity to work at the NIH has made getting into a program seem like a possibility, not just a lofty goal,” Vandehoef said. “With an M.D./Ph.D., you can teach and do your research at a medical school. I’ve definitely thought pretty hard about that because I enjoy teaching. I enjoy helping people understand things.”

David J. Beck Fellow Amy MorganEnglish, Spanish major explores Spain, Argentina

For Amy Morgan, studying at Lamar University has provided extraordinary opportunities and exposure to new cultures that she never envisioned while growing up in Silsbee.

An English and Spanish major, Morgan traveled to Salamanca, Spain, in summer 2011 for a study-abroad program offered by Lamar. Recently chosen as one of LU’s two David J. Beck Fellows for 2013, she is now planning her second trip abroad. For her fellowship project, Morgan will travel to Argentina for a literary seminar, study and work on a literary translation in summer 2013.

“This time I’m going to be alone, not with a group from Lamar, which is exciting. I’ll get to see how I thrive on my own in a different environment,” Morgan said. “I’m also planning to stay with a family in Argentina. This is going to force me to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to really experience the culture.”

A longtime love of reading and literature made majoring in English a natural choice for Morgan. “Now it’s not just the story. I like the phrasing,” she said. “When I read something, I’ll think, ‘that’s a really beautiful way that he wrote that.’ It’s not necessarily the plot or the characters. The writing itself has started to become more and more attractive to me.”

She added a second major in Spanish after taking a few classes to fulfill a foreign language requirement. “It’s fascinating,” she said. “A huge number of people speak Spanish all over the world. Each country is going to have its own variations of the language, its own culture and history.”

The interest in Spanish sparked by her Lamar classes and professors prompted her decision to pursue a career as a literary translator. She applied for the David J. Beck Fellowship as a step toward that goal. During her summer project in Argentina, Morgan will have the opportunity to meet with author and seminar organizer Mempo Giardinelli, whose work she plans to translate into English.

“Getting the chance to meet with the author I will be translating is going to be amazing. Getting to listen to all the different writers and translators and critics from around Argentina will be a really helpful learning experience for me,” Morgan said.

“I don’t think translators get some of the credit they deserve sometimes. I feel like it’s overlooked. With a lot of the literature we have today, it wouldn’t be possible for us to read it without translation,” she said.

Along with her studies, Morgan has enjoyed her involvement in student organizations at Lamar. She has served as secretary and historian of the Honors Student Association and has enjoyed service opportunities with the Honors Program. She has a campus job in the Honors office. Additionally, she serves as president of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society, and is a member of Sigma Delta Pi, the Spanish honor society.

Lamar’s proximity to her hometown and good academic reputation made it an attractive choice when she was deciding on a college. She finalized her decision when she was offered a Mirabeau Scholarship. Morgan said she appreciated the opportunity to live on campus and take advantage of the full college experience because of the scholarship.

Perhaps her favorite part of Lamar University has been her classes because of the knowledge she has gained and the relationships she has built. “I really love learning and reading and getting to discuss different things with my fellow students and professors,” Morgan said.

Whether in a classroom on campus or exploring another country, Morgan has found multiple windows into other worlds and other cultures through LU.

by Beth Gallaspy