Patrick Erickson spent the summer after his junior year away from Susquehanna University on an internship with the Mayo Clinic in Arizona, a worldwide leader in medical care, research and education. He helped Dr. Xiu-Boa Chang research drug interaction with multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that targets white blood cells in bone marrow. It wasn't just another internship to bolster his resume for the future. It had a personal connection for Erickson.
More than 50 percent of Susquehanna students serve internships in their fields of study each year. That kind of practical experience helps lead to 96 percent of graduates either landing jobs or enrolling in graduate school within six months of graduation. Erickson, a biochemistry major from Shamokin, Pa., had a keen interest in learning as much as he could 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."
At Susquehanna, Erickson worked closely with Wade Johnson, associate professor and chair of the chemistry department, as one of his research assistants. Their connection extended past the microscope—Erickson 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.
"At a larger school you don't have that type of relationship with[professors]," Erickson said. "And the classes 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
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 helped grow specific cancer cells for use in the laboratory and completed procedures on his own after gaining the trust of the investigating scientists. Erickson is currently in grad school and considering pursuing a Ph.D. in cancer research.