The Voice: Fall 2002

The Voice

Science students expand their education during the summer

Dr. Tony Jelsma tries to help his students see the difference their Christian faith and worldview makes on their study and understanding of biology. Dr. Greg Vanden Heuvel from the University of Kansas Medical Center is absolutely thrilled with the Dordt students he’s had working in his lab for the last two summers.

“They’re fearless,” he says, explaining that the biggest difficulty in science is going from talking about it to actually doing experiments.

“People are afraid to fail,” he says. But he’s found the three Dordt students he’s worked with not only very capable, but eager to try anything.

“The first lab experience can be very intimidating,” says Vanden Heuvel. He doesn’t want future scientists to be scared away from research because of the environment, so he tries to make the experience a good one for the students.

“These students have a wonderful opportunity to be exposed to a research environment under the direction of a Christian scientist,” says Dr. Tony Jelsma of the Dordt College biology department. Jelsma has invited Vanden Heuvel to speak to his molecular biology classes and recommends students to Vanden Heuvel.

“I enjoyed it thoroughly,” says Senior Josh Warolin. “I wanted the research experience to improve my chances for getting into medical school. Greg told us we were there to learn, and we did.”

“I had access to all the materials and information I could want,” says Seth Vogel. “When I talked to Greg he was generous and helpful, pointing me in the right direction.”

Vanden Heuvel, who hired current senior Andrea Pausma in his lab last summer, says he would love to have one of these students do a Ph.D. under him.

“Graduate students are hard to come by. Most good students in the sciences go to medical schools.” He believes that most students aren’t really exposed to other careers in the sciences.

All three of the Dordt students who have worked in Vanden Heuvel’s lab are pre-med students. And although they still intend to go to medical school, the research experience has opened up a new dimension of the field for them.

“It didn’t change my mind and, in fact, [it] confirmed my desire to go into medicine,” says Warolin, but he believes he benefited greatly from it.

Vogel, on the other hand, says he really came to enjoy the research—more than he thought he would. As a result he plans to apply to M.D./Ph.D. programs for next year. Such programs combine research and practice-oriented training.

“Medicine is changing so fast,” says Vanden Heuvel. “The overlap between research and practice is becoming greater all the time.” He believes that ten years down the road medicine could look very different, with treatment involving more laboratory research.

But regardless of whether these students enter a Ph.D. program at Kansas or anywhere else, Vanden Heuvel is appreciative of the contribution they make and the opportunity he has to help train much-needed future scientists.

“A person can’t run a lab by himself,” he says. Warolin and Vogel contributed to research this summer that turned up some significant results and may lead to publications that will include their names. Warolin worked on mice livers, making slides of tissues and staining them to analyze the cells present in tumors. Vogel studied how protein affects the cell cycle in a CUX 1 gene.

“The arrangement benefits both of us,” says Vanden Heuvel. In order to make strides in research, labs need to take some risks to determine if a project is worth following up. Doctoral students are hesitant to take on projects that don’t have a very good chance of working. Undergraduates, on the other hand, have nothing to lose if a particular project runs into a dead end. They’ve learned from the experience regardless of the results. But the connection with Dordt College doesn’t end at the end of each summer.

Biology students of Dr. Tony Jelsma are continuing research for Vanden Heuvel’s lab during the school year at Dordt. In fact, Andrea Pausma is currently continuing a research project for Vanden Heuvel as her directed senior research. Pausma is using the microtome machine donated last year to slice and examine the kidneys of a mutant strain of mice.

“This gives students a wonderful opportunity to discover part of God’s creation never seen before,” says Jelsma, who also welcomes the opportunity to stay close to current laboratory research.

Vanden Heuvel hopes to continue the relationship he’s building with Dordt College.

“I lived in Sioux Center for ten years of my life and have a real appreciation for what colleges like Dordt are doing,” he says.

Vogel sees the opportunity as confirmation of his career path. His course work, his research experience, and his current work as an aide at the local hospital are all fitting together, he says.

“I guess that’s the way God works to help you see what path you should take.”