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Ross Hilliard ′07

As a senior in high school I was fairly sure I wanted to study premed or prepare for a career in medical research, but I didn’t know which. I chose Rhodes over several other institutions because it offered exposure to both. Memphis is filled with hospitals and other interesting places to volunteer, and there’s also the Rhodes St. Jude Summer Plus program, which has been an amazing experience for me.

I started working at St. Jude through the program in 2004, the summer after my freshman year. My research has focused on pneumonia and modes of infection through studies of protein structure. I’ve been able to continue working there in the same lab beyond the length of the program (two summers and the academic year in between), doing an independent research project on a principle protein involved in infecting human nasal passages. The goal is to identify new techniques and procedures for combating the bacteria. I had the privilege of presenting part of my work at the Frontiers in Structural Biology meeting in Colorado (part of the Keystone Symposia). This year I continued the research as a senior honors project.

Working at St. Jude is a moving experience.  Since everyone at the hospital--patients, their parents, medical personnel, and researchers--eat in the same cafeteria, there are daily reminders of why the work is so important. Though the patients face incredible obstacles and are often given treatments with side effects that make them ill, it is rare to see a child without a smile on his or her face. Their individual strength is truly a remarkable thing.

It’s easy to get completely engrossed in this work, but there are plenty of other great things at Rhodes. I also spend my time singing with the Rhodes Singers, serving on the Rhodes Up ′Til Dawn fundraising board (a fundraiser for St. Jude), participating in my fraternity and working as the director of the student computer service center on campus.  I recently spent six weeks studying at St John′s College as part of Rhodes’ British Studies at Oxford program. This was an additional benefit of choosing a liberal arts college.

I fell in love with Rhodes when I visited as a senior, and that hasn’t changed. I plan to stay in the south for medical school. Oh, yes, I have made a decision about the clinical medicine or research question. I plan to do both.

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