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Connections Fuel Biochemistry Major in Mayo Clinic Internship

Published on July 17, 2014

• Family link to cancer gives rise to academic interests

Susquehanna University student Patrick Erickson with his grandmother Mary LouPatrick Erickson is spending his summer away from Susquehanna University on an internship with the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, a worldwide leader in medical care, research and education. He’s helping Dr. Xiu-Boa Chang research drug interaction with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that targets white blood cells in bone marrow. Except this isn’t just another internship to bolster his resume for the future. It has a personal connection for Erickson.

Erickson, a rising senior from Shamokin, Pa., is a biochemistry major who has a keen interest in learning as much as he can about cancer and eradicating the disease. While in high school, Erickson’s grandmother, Mary Lou, was diagnosed with colon cancer. The two had always been close and Mary Lou’s diagnosis put a face on the disease and steeled Erickson’s interest in math and science.

“It really hit home for me how terrible the disease is,” he said. “As I learned more about it, I thought cancer was fascinating from a scientific standpoint, but I wanted to help find ways to get better treatments for it and possibly cure it.”

Close-knit collaboration

At Susquehanna, Erickson works closely with Wade Johnson, associate professor and chair of the chemistry department, as one of his research assistants. Their connection extends past the microscope—Erickson has found a professional mentor and friend in his professor. The small class sizes in courses like Cell and Organismal Biology, which covers cancer-related topics, and plentiful opportunities for hands-on research further foster that bond between students and faculty.

“The main thing Susquehanna has done to prepare me for this internship is the interactions you have with the professors,” Erickson said. “At a larger school you don’t have that type of relationship with them. They’ve seen who I am on more than just a student level. And the classes have helped prepare me for the things professionals want you to do in a lab setting, like recording and the machinery we have to work with.”

Biochemistry skills at work

Erickson is getting to show off what he can do at the Mayo Clinic. After receiving letters of recommendation for the internship from his professors, he was one of just two students from liberal arts schools given the internship, competing against students from large schools like the University of Arizona, Arizona State and Southern California. At the clinic, he’s helping grow specific cancer cells for use in the laboratory and completing procedures on his own after gaining the trust of the investigating scientists. He’s earned the right to do these on his own because of the techniques he learned at Susquehanna. Erickson is considering pursuing a Ph.D. in cancer research.

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