Editor’s Note: As commencement nears, WVU Health Sciences is featuring some of our most dedicated graduates. Here is the story of one of those students.)
Hope Bias always knew she wanted to study humans. A first generation college student and graduate of Parkersburg High School in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Hope attended the University of Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology with a specialty in Archaeology. But Hope wanted to study more than evolutionary history, cultural behavior and social adaptations. She wanted to study the many things that makes humans sick and figure out how to prevent or treat them.
“I’ve always had an interest in health sciences and in medicine, and though I loved studying cultures, I also knew that I wanted to switch my career back toward the more bench medical-related sciences, and I think my education in anthropology is going to help me immensely in the medical field,” Hope said. “I’ve always been interested in epidemics and microbial and infectious disease, so when I heard about the IMMB program forming at WVU, it seemed to be a good fit, and it came at exactly the right time.”
After spending a summer at archaeological field school, Hope worked for more than a year as a live-in caretaker for a woman suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, often leaving an individual with loss of muscle control, pain and weakness. After this experience, Hope’s interests were confirmed. She knew that a career in health sciences and medicine was the right fit because her experience in caring for someone’s medical and personal needs endeared her to the field even further.
Hope was accepted into West Virginia University’s Immunology and Medical Microbiology program, a field of study that gives graduates an in-depth understanding of the related disciplines of immunology and microbiology. They learn how different microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi cause disease and how the immune system responds to infections. They also discover how errors in the immune system can lead to allergy, autoimmune disease and cancer.
The IMMB degree at WVU is one of only six undergraduate programs in the country with a focus on immunology and microbiology. It is one of only two in the United States that is housed in a School of Medicine with classes exclusively taught by medical school faculty starting in the freshman year. Hope is one of the first four graduates of the program.
Hope is not stopping there, though. She was recently admitted as an M.D./Ph.D. candidate at WVU starting in fall 2016. Only four candidates per class are accepted each year and are fully funded through a combination of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Partnership Training Program grants and University waivers.
“The way I envision my career unfolding is to develop a partnership with people who do basic science full-time, but to split my time as close as I can between treating patients and providing intellectual support to whichever lab I happen to eventually be associated with,” Hope said. “I will be able to provide them with clinical specimens and a viewpoint into clinical practice that they otherwise wouldn’t have and hopefully be a bridge between basic sciences and clinical and translational medicine.”
Hope chose WVU based on a combination of family, home, budget and quality educational opportunities. Affordable in-state tuition was, of course, an appeal, but Hope says that WVU’s rising national reputation in research and wanting to be a part of that change also attracted her interest.
Hope’s advice to perspective students is do not be afraid to reach for the resources that will allow you to be successful and happy. “Much of college is learning how to be independent,” she said, “but recognize when you need to ask for help to achieve your potential. Seek balance!
“People here are very communal; they will help you reach whatever heights you aspire to, and that’s something I love about WVU,” Hope said. “It’s competitive only in that we push each other to strive further but otherwise we help each other out as much as possible, so it’s not stepping on others to achieve. All of my professors have been very influential in encouraging us to aspire and to be curious and to try to change the field, because it is ever-changing.”
Asked if she’ll remain in the Mountain State, Hope says that West Virginia will always be home, but she likes to explore and travel. “It’s hard to tell what opportunities may come down the road,” she said. “I love my state. I love my family. For that reason, I probably won’t stray too far from my permanent residence, but I hope that my career incorporates travel that allows me to branch out while also helping West Virginia.”
The School of Medicine will hold two commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 15, 2016; one for medicine doctoral candidates at 8:30 a.m. and one for professional programs candidates at 12:30 p.m. Both ceremonies will be held at the Morgantown Event Center and are by invitation only. All commencement ceremonies will be webcast live at www.webcast.wvu.edu. Following the events, videos will be available for viewing on WVU’s official YouTube channel, WestVirginiaU. For more information, visit WVU’s commencement website at www.graduation.wvu.edu.